Believe it Dirk, No. 7 all-time coming soon

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nowitzki optimistic about upcoming season in Big D

DALLAS – When the NBA season opens next Tuesday night with the Dallas Mavericks taking on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on TNT, two of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game will resume their more than a decade-and-a-half-old rivalry.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, 38, enters his 18th season, all with the Spurs. Dirk Nowitzki, 36, begins his 17th season, all with the Mavs. Both players have won titles in the last four years and both accepted  significant pay cuts to help keep their teams competitive. And both will continue to climb multiple all-time lists on their way to enshrinement in The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

When it comes to the latter, all eyes will focus on the 7-foot German’s rapid ascension up the NBA’s most coveted list of all — the game’s all-time greatest scorers.

Nowitzki enters the 2014-15 season at No. 10 with 26,786 career points, a number that just doesn’t seem possible to the Wurzburg, Germany native no matter how many times he hears it.

“Not really. That is still weird to me,” Nowitzki said. “All these guys on that list I admired and watched, so that’s weird. That’s weird.”

Thing is, Dirk, it’s going to get weirder. Fast.

Nowitzki is 161 points away from passing No. 9 Hakeem Olajuwon, arguably the league’s greatest foreign-born player. He’s 528 points from passing No. 8 Elvin Hayes and 624 away from passing No. 7 Moses Malone. If Nowitzki averages 20 points a game, he’ll assume No. 7 all-time just 32 games into the season, his first under a new three-year contract.

At that point, he’ll only be about 1,170 points shy of No. 6 Shaquille O’Neal, a takeover that ultimately might have to wait until next season, but it will happen. Nowitzki would need to average around 24 points if he were to play in no fewer than 75 games to do it this season.

He averaged 21.7 points last season and totaled 1,735 points, the most points he’s scored in a season since topping 2,000 in 2009-10. What Nowitzki will average this season will be intriguing. He’s surrounded by the most potent supporting cast since the 2011 title team.

During that championship season, Nowitzki scored 1,681 points. He missed nine consecutive games with a knee injury and struggled for a time after admittedly returning too early as the team fell apart without him. He played 62 games during the lockout season, struggled with knee issues early, and finished with 1,342 points, and followed that with 917 points in 53 games following knee surgery prior to the start of the season 2012-13 season.

Now, with Chandler Parsons adding scoring pop at small forward in place of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler back at center and Monta Ellis capable of dropping 20 a night, owner Mark Cuban has said he doesn’t expect Nowitzki to average 20 a game. In fact, Cuban said he doesn’t want anyone to average 20 because if that happens it will mean coach Rick Carlisle‘s movement-based offense will be getting everybody involved.

Even if his scoring takes an expected dip (just as his minutes are expected to once again), Nowitzki, assuming good health, will pass Shaq no later than early next season. And by the time he’s closing out his contract, No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points) will likely be making room for Dirk, who now says he might even entertain another couple of years once he reaches that point.

“I think that’ll sink in once my career is over and as I get older and more time goes by, I think that’ll be sweet then,” Nowitzki said. “Right now I’m still so worried about winning games, staying in shape, competing with the young guys that come into the league every year. I think stuff like that is going to be way sweeter once my career is over, and then maybe I show my kids and grandkids. That will be unbelievable.”

Duncan begins the season at No. 19 with 24,904 points. He will also continue up the charts with No. 17 Jerry West (25,192), No. 16 Reggie Miller (25,279) and No. 15 Alex English (25,613) all in striking distance before the All-Star break.

However, how high Duncan moves up depends on how two more still-chugging future Hall of Famers do. No. 18 Paul Pierce (25,031) begins his 17th season and first with the Wizards, and No. 14 Kevin Garnett (25,626) is looking for a bounce-back with the Nets in his 20th season.

Lottery reforms fail to gain support

NEW YORK – There’s still a 75 percent chance the worst team in the NBA won’t get to draft the best player available in the annual June Draft.

The status quo isn’t likely to erase “tanking” from the NBA vocabulary, however.

Nor might it placate those seeking even longer odds for the team, or teams, that head to the bottom of the standings as if it was a mini-tramp, hoping to propel themselves into contention faster by being bad rather than just mediocre.

But it will have to do for now, because changes in the draft lottery system that were expected by many insiders to be approved Wednesday fell short in a vote at the league’s Board of Governors meeting.

Reports by both Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com cited a 17-13 vote in favor of the lottery reforms, but 23 votes were needed for them to pass. Much of the debate broke along small-revenue and big-revenue markets, though preliminary reports of the voting suggested that some franchises crossed market-size lines.

Among the changes considered, the team with the worst record would see its shot at the top pick cut approximately in half (12 percent), with other teams’ improving, and the worst team could have dropped all the way to seventh (rather than fourth under the current system).

Some small-market teams, who already feel at a disadvantage in free agency and in trading (and keeping) players, apparently are wary of changes in the draft system that might hurt their access to top young talent on rookie contracts. An Eastern Conference GM told NBA.com that while changes might be welcome, a number of teams were “not happy” with the specifics voted on Wednesday.

Blogtable: Down, but on its way up

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: The Jazz finally may be on the right track

> Which of these down-on-its-luck franchises strikes you as on the fastest track forward: Utah, Sacramento or Orlando?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Orlando. They strike me as having the best fit of young pieces – Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon – to develop together, if they can manage to score enough points along the way. Sacramento should have been better by now, and for every Kings player who intrigues me, there’s another who cancels out the optimism. Utah’s talent is good but a new coach and system suggests a reset of the learning curve.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Can I say Philadelphia?  Even with more bumps and plenty of pain ahead this season, the Sixers are stacking young talent and will get more from the 2015 Draft. But if you’re making me pick from these three, I’ll go with the one that has the best player. That’s the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, for all the known questions about attitude, could be a franchise-carrying talent. The Jazz and Magic are scoops of vanilla ice cream: filling but hardly exciting.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I keep wanting to believe in the Kings, to believe in DeMarcus Cousins, to believe in new ownership, new management and coach Mike Malone. But, man, they really make it hard. In Orlando, I do like their young talent, but I’m not sold on Jacque Vaughn at the helm and I think there will be a coaching change at some point. Utah has fully committed to a youth movement and I’m sold on Trey Burke and have high hopes for Dante Exum as a game-changing playmaker. Gordon Hayward has to step it up to an All-Star-caliber level, so we’ll see about that, but there’s other young, emerging talent and more picks in the trove. They got the coach question out of the way and Quin Snyder will breathe some freshness into the program. Maybe this is my West bias coming into play, but I’ll take Utah over Orlando by a smidgen.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOrlando. For one thing, the Magic are in the East, which gives them an easier path to the back of the playoff pack, even this season despite a lot of youth. For another: Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. That’s a nice foundation built on defense and rebounding. They obviously have a lot of growing to do while relying heavily on two rookies and a second-year player, but that’s a lot of potential for the fast track.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very excited about the 2-3 year prospects of any of these teams. The Kings have the best player of the three, but nothing around DeMarcus Cousins (or a clear plan of action) that says they definitely have a shot at making the playoffs in the next three years. The Magic and Jazz both have a decent collection of young talent, including rookie guards – Elfrid Payton and Dante Exum – with high ceilings, but nobody that is definitely a future All-Star. If I have to take one team, I’ll take Orlando, just because they’re in the Eastern Conference, where a playoff spot can be had with a decent amount of talent and good coaching.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of the these teams believe they have the ideal core group in place for lift off. The promise of what could be always rules the day in lottery land. The one place where I believe that there has been a true altering of the DNA for the better is in Utah. The continued stockpiling of versatile, young talent is at a point where the process can be accelerated a bit this season. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Alec Burks and even new coach Quin Snyder will operate without the added pressure of playoff expectations, which are not realistic for the Kings or Magic either. The Kings and Magic, however, are still sorting through their talent base to see who does and does not fit. The Jazz already know who and what they have.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Utah and Orlando are each inching forward, not a slowly as Philadelphia, but at intentionally deliberate paces. But from the ownership down, Sacramento seems like a team that doesn’t want to wait any longer. While Utah and Orlando each have a few nice young pieces, the Kings have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay who are further along than most of the guys in Orlando and Utah. They’ve got a new arena on the way, and there seems to be a real urgency to win and win now.

Blogtable: Concerns for the Cavaliers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: Sekou Smith takes a quick look at the 2014-15 Cavaliers

> Outside of injury, what do you see as the biggest concern for the Cavs, something that might not work as anticipated? Could it keep Cleveland from the East finals?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy biggest Cav-eat, so to speak, pertains to their size. Anderson Varejao has been prone to breakdowns, Brendan Haywood is 34, Kevin Love is outside half the time and everyone else is 6-foot-9 or shorter. But Miami overcame a similar “bigs” problem in the paint and I think Cleveland will, too. If Chicago figures out how to stay healthy and fresh for the postseason, maybe that trips up the Cavs. Otherwise, LeBron James will play in his fifth consecutive Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDefense. All indications from the preseason are the Cavs have plenty of offensive firepower. But the question is whether they can stop opponents, especially in the fourth quarter. I expect that to be a running theme throughout the season.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comWithout getting too technical here, defense has to be at the top of the list, right? Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love haven’t exactly stamped their careers as being stoppers. Anderson Varejao needs to stay healthy for interior protection (sorry, you said, outside of injury). Yes, if the Cavs turn out to be a porous defensive squad and make LeBron run all over the place, it could keep them out of the East finals — that is if they’re playing the Bulls in the second round.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Just the obvious: It takes time. Grand success doesn’t always happen right away. Ask 2010-11 LeBron, the first season in Miami. The Cavaliers have some (not all) unselfish players and experience and talent, but there will be a transition period with so many new people and a new system with the coach. Maybe that transition period will be a couple months. Maybe it will be the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDefense is clearly concern No. 1. Their offense is going to be ridiculous, with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James attacking and plenty of guys to place the floor. But their best offensive lineups – James at the four and Kevin Love at the five – aren’t going to be great defensive lineups. And their interior defenders – Brendan Haywood and Anderson Varejao – have each had problems staying healthy. That’s not keeping them from the conference finals, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If we’re excluding injury and the Chicago Bulls, I’d argue the Cavs have all of the human resources to get to wherever they are aiming to go this season. Still, there are chemistry concerns for this group headlined by LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving that still bother me just days away from the start of the regular season. The sacrifices that will have to be made by not only the marquee stars but also role players like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and others should not be overlooked. This is a five-man game and the Cavs need to make sure they have the right five to ride through the regular season and into the postseason. Any glitch in that chemistry matrix could derail the championship plans.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDefense. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts and stuff to figure out for the Cavaliers this season, but I think the offense is the least of their worries. Worst case scenario, you put Kyrie on one wing and LeBron on the other and let them go one-on-one against their defenders, with Kevin Love grabbing rebounds. But defense is the one place where they can’t just get by on talent. They don’t have a rim protector, and other than LeBron, none of their starters are really known for his defensive ability. Time will tell if they’re able to implement a system where they’re able to cover for each other. A defensive deficiency may not matter in terms of escaping the Eastern Conference, but when you’re facing a team like San Antonio without a strong defense in place … well, I think we all saw how that can go.

Blogtable: Putting up big numbers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?


> ‘Melo says it won’t be him. LeBron’s not worried about scoring and has other weapons. KD is hurting for awhile. Do you see a new scoring champ this year?

Carmelo Anthony (Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony
(Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comRussell Westbrook has the tools and the mentality, but he’ll be back to sharing the OKC offense with Durant soon enough. So I’m going with Houston’s James Harden, who will be able to play just selfishly enough – based on what the Rockets will need from him – to chase the scoring crown.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHello, James Harden. He’s coming off consecutive seasons of averaging more than 25 points per game (ranked 5th in 2014), the Rockets have lost a considerable bit of their punch from last year in Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin and that likely means Harden will be asked/needed to put up more shots to fill the void. He’s never had to be asked twice to shoot more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well that was nice of ‘Melo to take himself out of the scoring race, sort of how Kevin Durant bowed out late in the 2012-13 season to sort of let ‘Melo get his one scoring title. But, geez, looking at the Knicks’ roster, it seems to me that ‘Melo’s gonna have to light it up nighty. But since he says he’s out, we’ll omit him. And let’s say Durant won’t come back and take it, and surmise that LeBron James will spread the wealth with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. So go to the next guy on the list, and last year that was James Harden. With Chandler Parsons now firing 3s in Dallas, Harden has even more opportunity to pump in the points, and, quite frankly, the Rockets just might need him to score 30 a night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sets up nicely for Stephen Curry, doesn’t it? I don’t agree with Carmelo’s premise, and I won’t count Durant out, but for the sake of conversation, Curry is a solid choice with the Warriors emphasizing ball movement. Just what the rest of the league needs. Steph getting more open looks. And Paul George should be mentioned in the question among the missing. If not for the knee injury, I probably would have gone with him for the non-Melo, non-LeBron, non-KD scoring title.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI don’t believe Carmelo. Yes, he’s being asked to move the ball more in the Triangle offense. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t still get his shots or that the Knicks won’t still rely on him to carry their offense. And they’re going to need a lot of offense, because their defense will be pretty poor. I wouldn’t take Melo against the field, but he’s my pick.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. I don’t care what Carmelo thinks or says, it’s his scoring title to lose, even with the new triangle-based offense in New York. But that doesn’t mean there are not plenty of eager candidates — James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and others — willing to step into the fray and chase that top spot. The truly elite, scoring championship chasers are far and few between. There are only a handful of them playing at any given time, and even fewer of them who stay healthy long enough and stay locked in long enough and consistently enough to stay in the mix for an entire season. Triangle or not, it’s ‘Melo’s title to lose.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Kobe? Have you watched the Lakers in the preseason? Kobe is taking a lot of shots — in the last two games combined he’s taken 45 field goals and 24 free throws. The Lakers probably aren’t going to be very good, but Kobe’s gonna be Kobe, which means he’ll keep getting buckets and will play as many minutes as he possibly can. And if he’s in the mix for scoring leader with a few months to go, that might be the only thing the Lakers have to play for.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 22


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant shrugs off ESPN article | Reports: Magic, Vucevic nearing extension | Pacers have trouble finding offensive rhythm | Kaman suffers odd injury

No. 1: Kobe shrugs off article about him being a difficult teammate — If you somehow missed it the last few days or so, ESPN The Magazine recently published a big article on Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant as he enters the twilight of his career. The story contends that a big reason why the Lakers have had trouble in recent years landing marquee (or even middling) free agents is because other players are reluctant to play alongside Bryant. The story generated a lot of buzz yesterday and after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Phoenix Suns, Bryant addressed the story’s main points. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Jovan Buha has more:

In his first time speaking to media after an ESPN The Magazine article suggested that he played a significant role in the Lakers’ recent slide over the last few years, Bryant, known for speaking candidly, responded with a seemingly diplomatic answer.

“It’s not the first one and it won’t be the last one,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 114-108 preseason overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. “One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is that you’ll have a bad story that comes out on a Monday and it seems like it’s the end of the world and it seems like everybody’s taking shots at you. But time goes by and then you look back on it and it was just a Monday.

“Then you have another great story that comes out maybe a month later, or something like that, and it’s a fantastic story. And then there’s a bad story that comes out one month after that. So you understand that it’s a cycle, and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment in time.”

Bryant continued, explaining his rationale behind remaining upbeat despite the current state of the Lakers franchise.

“Stay focused on the bigger picture and things are never as bleak as they seem at the time,” Bryant said. “I just kind of roll with it.”

Bryant’s teammate, guard Jeremy Lin, was also asked about the appeal of playing with Bryant, and had nothing but positive things to say.

“I’ve said it from the very beginning: What I’ve seen, my personal experience with him, which is the only thing I can speak on, it’s been great,” Lin said. “From Day 1, from the minute I was traded until now, it’s just been constantly him trying to be a leader, being a good leader, a communicator, teaching me, teaching me, teaching me and doing it in a mentorship-type way.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant scored 27 points in L.A.’s preseason loss to Phoenix

 

The last less likely to be first, under expected draft lottery reforms

NEW YORK – The NBA’s Board of Governors, expected to approve an overhaul of the league’s draft lottery Wednesday at their fall meetings in midtown Manhattan, might want to be careful what they vote for.

In thwarting the Philadelphia 76ers in what many consider their shameless plunge into, and loitering about, the lottery for consecutive seasons, they might in fact wind up aiding GM Sam Hinkie‘s team on the way up.

Lottery reform, as reported by multiple media outlets, is likely to pass with at least the 23 (of 30) votes needed. The changes essentially will broaden the lottery’s sweet spot, giving more teams a better shot at landing the No. 1 pick and therefore, presumably, discouraging teams that might be inclined to “tank” their way to a rebuilding strategy.

That’s what Philadelphia has done, trading last year for injured big man Nerlens Noel, sputtering through a 19-63 season, then using its two lottery picks in June for two more players – Kansas center Joel Embiid and Euro-obligated Dario Saric – who won’t help at all in 2014-15.

Flattening the odds among the teams with the four worst records, cutting the worst club’s chances (25 percent now) approximately in half and guaranteeing it no lower than the seventh pick (no longer the fourth) all reportedly are among the reforms considered by the owners this week to strip incentives from finishing dead last or nearly so.

But given the young talent already on board in Philadelphia, it’s possible the 76ers could be improve considerably in the next two or three years – and find itself with a Top 3 pick again, thanks to the rejiggered odds.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of the league’s worst team landing the best draft prospect would be lessened again. And that’s happened only three times in 21 years anyway since the lottery adopted its current weighting – a pattern that some believe argued against tanking in the first place. A 25 percent shot at No. 1 means a 75 percent shot at not getting the top pick.

Clearly, the league is a long way from its days of heads or tails, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Neal Walk and Magic Johnson vs. David Greenwood, dictated by coin flip. But the 76ers and others got good enough at gaming the system to grab the Governors’ attention, and a draft system intended to help the truly awful might wind up aiding the merely mediocre. That is of particular concern to the league’s smaller-revenue markets, which already feel disadvantaged in attracting free agents and retaining players acquired via trades.

Among other items believed to be on the Board of Governors agenda:

  • A report on the league’s new replay center in Secaucus, N.J., the clearing house for all reviewed calls this season.
  • Discussion of the flood of TV money from new rights extensions with Turner Broadcasting and ABC/ESPN and its expected impact on player compensation, the salary cap and revenue-sharing.
  • Update on the Atlanta Hawks ownership and front-office situation.
  • Conversations about the NBA’s code of conduct, particularly as it relates to domestic violence.

Forgotten Villanueva hopes to stick

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

DALLAS – Charlie Villanueva could have packed his sneakers, walked away from the game and lived a happy life with his wife and two young kids wherever they so pleased, and no one might ever have noticed he’d left.

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks

Charlie Villanueva is looking to turn a non-guaranteed training camp invite into a full-time spot on the Mavericks.
Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images

It’s been that long since the 6-foot-11, sweet-shooting, headband-wearing Villanueva — once a No. 7 overall pick and once an ascending player with the Bucks who became the Pistons’ prized, $37-million free-agent acquisition — did much of anything in the league.

What should have been prime years of his career instead wasted away on Detroit’s bench, Villanueva rendered impotent by a toxic mix of various and seemingly unending injuries, a frustrating coaching carousel and a series of organizational missteps. He became the NBA’s forgotten man.

“I think a lot of people forgot about what Charlie Villanueva can do,” he told NBA.com on Monday night, seated in the corner of the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room, awaiting preseason game No. 6 of eight of his hopeful resurrection. “Sometimes you’ve got to take two steps backward to take three steps forward. It’s just what happened in my career. But now I’m trying to change things around. I’m trying to reinvent myself.”

For the last five weeks, Villanueva, 30, has lived out of a couple of suitcases at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas, a 1.2-mile walk to the American Airlines Center and Mavs headquarters, leaving behind his family in Michigan. He agreed on Sept. 23 to come to training camp on a non-guaranteed contract.

“I’m not used to this, but everything happens for a reason, so I’m going with the punches,” Villanueva said. “I’ve spent a lot of time by myself. I’m away from my family now, away from the kids, a lot of alone time and a lot of eating meals alone.”

The Clippers were a potential option, but no guaranteed money was being offered there either. He chose Dallas, saying it just felt right, even though it already has the maximum 15 players on guaranteed contracts. If Villanueva is going to make the team, he’s going to have to convince owner Mark Cuban (who is open to being convinced) to trade (Gal Mekel?) or buy out (Bernard James?) a player on a guaranteed deal.

“I had a great conversation with coach [Rick Carlisle] and I just felt there was a serious opportunity here if I do my part,” Villanueva said. “I love the team, I love the city and I felt like every guy complemented each other real well, and this team is real deep as well. I felt why not go for the challenge and see what happens?”

The opportunity is real. The Mavs have long searched for a true stretch-4 to back up Dirk Nowitzki to maintain the offensive flow when he sits. Small forward Shawn Marion, now in Cleveland with LeBron James, was strong enough to move up a weight class when Nowitzki rested. Marion’s replacement, the 6-foot-10 sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, will be asked to play some power forward. The Mavs also acquired Al-Farouq Aminu, who Dallas coaches are taking great care to refine his defensive skills and 3-point shot. Brandan Wright plays more center than power forward because his best offensive skill is rolling to the basket.

The 240-pound, floor-spacing Villanueva seems the fit Dallas has been seeking. The Mavs signed Rashard Lewis in July, but voided the contract after discovering an injury, something that finally isn’t the first thing mentioned when Villanueva’s name comes up.

“Oh, I feel good. I haven’t felt this good in a while, man,” Villanueva said. “Feeling good, in great shape, healthy, just excited about basketball again.”

Within the Mavs’ organization there seems a genuine interest in getting Villanueva on the roster.

“He’s an extremely intelligent basketball player and he knows what he can and can’t do,” Carlisle said. “Those are the kind of guys that you like to have … He’s done a good job. He’s making a strong case.”

His start to the preseason — 32 points, 8-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc and nine rebounds in 35 minutes spread over three games — was more promising than his last three games — 13 points, 2-for-10 on 3s and five rebounds in 25 minutes over three games. He played just six minutes in Monday’s game against Memphis, the type of team with a big front line that would figure to make Villanueva valuable to Dallas. However, one weaknesses so far has been his low-post defense.

“I definitely feel like [I've been] given a fair shot,” Villanueva said. “I felt good about my chances, but at the end of the day, until I hear that word, I can’t be comfortable, I can’t get this monkey off my back.”

He’s far removed from 16.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 2008-09, the season that convinced Detroit to make him a swift and lucrative offer the ensuing summer. It’s been a long five years since. He essentially disappeared.

His five-year deal with Detroit finally up, having played only limited minutes in just 102 games over the last three seasons, Villanueva could have convinced himself to walk away, to enjoy his family and pursue new interests.

But he couldn’t walk away. It’s been a training camp like none other for Villanueva. Now two preseason games remain. The regular season begins next Tuesday.

“I love playing basketball,” Villanueva said. “I’m feeling good, feeling healthy, so trying to maximize my abilities until they take the basketball away from me.”

A book to settle, and incite, arguments

Wilt Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes a game in 1961-62 (John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated)

Wilt Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes a game in 1961-62 (John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated)

It’s the stuff arguments are made of. And barroom bets. And blackened eyes.

If you and your friends were to try to rank the Top 10 in anything, how much consensus would there be? Now broaden that across not one, not two but 22 categories, all under the umbrella of the Best This and Most That in NBA history.

That’s what the writers and editors at Sports Illustrated did with “Basketball’s Greatest,” a formidable 288-page volume released Tuesday that’s suitable for the coffee table, usable as a home-defense weapon and certain to rankle merely in the reading. But that’s OK, same as with the brand’s “Baseball’s Greatest” last year and “Football’s Greatest” from 2012. They’re full of history, stats and evaluation, but mostly they’re full of opinions.

Theirs just happen to be more credible than yours. (Nah, just stirring the pot.)

book-cover“What was interesting about basketball,” said editor Bill Syken, who worked on all three books, “was that, in football you can compare Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and they’ve played at the same time, but they don’t directly compete against each other. Not the way Russell and Chamberlain did, or Magic and Stockton did.”

The rankings – by the way, this is all-NBA/ABA, all the way, despite the generic title – came from an actual balloting of the magazine’s (and now Web site’s) NBA writers. Seven voters – Chris Ballard, Mark Bechtel, Lee Jenkins, Chris Mannix, Jack McCallum, Ian Thomsen and Alexander Wolff – chose their personal Top 10s, with a point system used (10 for a No. 1 mention, 9 for a No. 2 and so on) to create the overall lists. Every player who got even a single point is listed near the end.

The meat of the book is the position-by-position rankings, including comments from the voters and, at each spot, a feature story from the SI archives on one of the players. There also are categories such as Best Sixth Men, Best Defenders, Best Coaches and Best Clutch Performers. Fans of the Miami Heat will have thoughts on the Best Single-Season Team list.

There are some lighter lists in the final pages, including Best Slam Dunks (contest variety) and Best Quotes. And of course, there are tremendous photos. Many rarely have been seen. Even the familiar ones pop in the 13 x 10.5-inch format.

Syken spoke with Hang Time HQ this week about the book. Here’s a Q&A edited from a longer conversation:

The culture is saturated with Top 10 lists and slideshows. Where does your book bring its value?

Bill Syken: I think there are three ways where this book offers value different from a typical slideshow: the expertise, the photos and the writing. It’s not one person – this was a panel of seven people who have great experience covering basketball. We polled them all and got their collective wisdom on these topics. We have pictures from the SI archives that are displayed in a big coffee-table format where … there’s a lot more to look at. And beyond the pictures, each Top-10 finisher gets a clip from a classic SI story. So you have writing from Frank Deford, Jack McCallum, Lee Jenkins and other interesting writers who might be known for other sports but dropped in on basketball once in a while.

Did you learn anything you didn’t know?

Syken: I’m a pretty big NBA fan but I learned some details, especially about some of the games, that were before my period of memory. About the ’57 Finals and the drama there. And some of other details – we have an excerpt from Frank Deford about when Moses Malone jumped from high school to the [ABA]. His meetings with [Maryland coach] Lefty Driesell and how that went. Or 20 years later, we have a story about Kevin Garnett’s tryout in front of all these scouts when he was considering making the jump to the NBA.  

Morning shootaround — Oct. 21


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Davis not worried about injury | Rondo may suit up for season-opener | Bosh: Money was deciding factor in free-agent choice | Pacers’ George puts up shots at practice

No. 1: Davis says not to worry about his injury — After Anthony Davis‘ tremendous showing in the 2014 FIBA World Cup and given his breakout season in 2013-14, many are expecting him to take that next leap in his development this season. Injuries, though, have always been a bugaboo for Davis throughout his career and when he hurt his right wrist in last night’s preseason game against the Washington Wizards, many New Orleans Pelicans followers were concerned. However, as Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune reports, Davis says his injury is nothing serious:

Although Davis was officially diagnosed with a sprained right wrist, he downplayed the injury after the Pelicans’ 88-84 victory Monday night against the Washington Wizards at Royal Farms Arena.

“It’s all good,” Davis said. “I went up for a lob and came down on it. I’m fine,” Davis said.

Davis said he injured his wrist while attempting to catch an alley-hoop pass and landed awkwardly on his hand.

Davis said if it had been a regular season game he would have played on after getting the wrist taped by trainers.

He even lobbied coach Monty Williams to return to action. But Williams said it wasn’t worth the risk after Davis already had scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots in 20:42 of what was – at the moment — a lopsided preseason game.

“I kept him out,” Williams said. “He wanted to get back in the game. (Athletic trainer) Duane (Brooks) taped him up. To me it’s not worth it. He had already played 20 minutes. I played him a ton in the first half. I just didn’t want to risk anything.

“He fell down and he felt like he twisted it or something like that. But I think he’ll be fine.”


VIDEO: Anthony Davis suffered a wrist injury in the third quarter of last night’s game