Can LeBron’s new ‘mates stay healthy?

cavs

If the Cavaliers hope to win a championship this season, they’ll need both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor for the majority of games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Injuries unfortunately are making headlines again this preseason with seemingly a bushel of six-to-eight-week-type setbacks, Kevin Durant‘s right foot and Bradley Beal‘s left wrist being two of the most recent and most prominent.

Injuries to key players certainly can derail a season. Last year, Dwyane Wade‘s status was of constant concern to the Heat, and although he said otherwise, Wade seemed to labor through the NBA Finals. His ongoing knee maintenance and uncertainty of his availability week to week, and sometimes even game to game, was also the primary reason why it made sense for LeBron James to take his talents back to Cleveland and join a younger cast.

Wade missed 58 games over the last three seasons, 28 last year and there’s no guarantee this season he’ll be able to match the 54 games he played. But be careful. In Cleveland, the seemingly indestructible James (he’s never missed more than seven games in any of his 11 seasons) is paired with two All-Stars with something of an injury track record.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on Wednesday already sat out his third consecutive preseason game with a sprained ankle. In the first quarter of that game, Kevin Love left and did not return because of a stiff neck, an injury that isn’t believed to be serious.

Irving has missed 49 games over the last three seasons, pretty comparable to Wade, who has much more mileage on his body. Love missed 80 games over that same stretch with 64 coming during two different stretches of the 2012-13 season due to a twice-broken hand. He originally broke his right hand in the preseason by, he says, doing knuckle pushups. He returned earlier than expected, played 18 games, and then re-broke the hand. At the end of that season, Love had surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue.

Love missed just five games in his final frustrating season with Minnesota, and Irving gave the 33-win Cavs 71 games, missing 11. If new coach David Blatt can get anywhere near that availability from each player he’ll be ecstatic.

It’s just impossible to know. Some players seem to be more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe their bodies just aren’t as durable and their body parts succumb more easily. Irving is just 22 years old, but his list of injured body parts from one year at Duke through three seasons in the NBA could fill a medical encyclopedia: toe, biceps, shoulder, hand, finger, jaw, knees and now ankle.

Does it make him injury prone, or snake-bit? Does it mean he’ll always be one misstep away from trading in his uniform for a sport coat and a spot on the bench? Or is he just as likely to play all 82 games this season as he is to miss 10 games, or 20 games?

As Durant, who had missed only 16 of 558 regular-season games through his first seven seasons, said just 12 days before the Oklahoma City Thunder medical staff informed him he fractured his right foot and will miss up to two months: “You can get hurt walking outside. You hear that a lot, but you can get hurt anywhere. Freak accidents happen. But I’ve been playing this game so long that I know at any moment that something can happen.”

Love logged 36.3 minutes in 77 games last season. His injury history isn’t as ominous as Irving’s, but again, injuries are fickle. Love was already a bit banged up before the neck issue after he banged knees with Jabari Parker the night before.

As a rookie, Love played in 81 games. The next season he missed 22 games after he broke his left hand after banging it against a teammate’s elbow (does one of the league’s best rebounders and sweetest shooters have weak hands, or inexplicably bad luck with his hands?). In 2010-11, he missed nine games and then 11 the next season.

Health of course is a must for all teams. But for the championship-dreaming Cavaliers, already feeling a slight pinch from the injury bug, the ability for Irving and Love to remain on the floor with LeBron in their first season together is critical.

Is it possible? No one can answer that.

Measuring ball and player movement


VIDEO: Spurs Season Preview: Year in Review

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With the way the San Antonio Spurs eviscerated the Miami Heat defense on their way to the largest point differential in Finals history, ball movement has become a hot topic around the NBA. (You could say that the Spurs have spurred a ball-movement movement.)

The Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Thunder and Warriors are among the many teams who have given lip service to moving the ball better this season. And why not? More movement should make your team tougher to guard and give it a better chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

In the past, there wasn’t a great way to measure ball movement. We had assist ratio (AST/FGM), but an assist could be recorded without a lot of ball movement, a lot of ball movement doesn’t necessarily lead to an assist, and assigning assists is ultimately at the discretion of the official scorer.

Now, we have SportVU. And the presence of its cameras in every arena can give us a much better picture of how much teams really move the ball … and move themselves. The cameras track every movement on the court, both by the players and the basketball.

The Spurs are the first team that come to mind when discussing ball movement. But they ranked fourth in passes per possession last season, according to SportVU, behind Charlotte, Chicago and Utah.

Those three were all bottom-seven offensive teams, though. One reason they passed more often is because they often went deep into the shot clock without finding a good shot. The Jazz took a league-high 21 percent of their shots in the final six seconds of the shot clock. The Bulls (20 percent, fourth highest rate) and Bobcats (17 percent, 10th highest rate) took a lot of their shots in the final six seconds too.

Ball movement

20141016_passesTo account for that, SportVU can look at passes on a per-minute basis. And to simplify things, it can isolate passes and player movement in the frontcourt on possessions that lasted more than six seconds (to eliminate fast breaks).

When we do that, we see that the Spurs do moved the ball more than any other team, more than 15 times per minute. The Bobcats were still near the top of the list, but the Jazz (14.1) and Bulls (13.9) ranked ninth and 11th respectively.

The league average was about 13.6 passes per minute (one every 4.4 seconds), and the Golden State Warriors are at the bottom of the list at 11.7 passes per minute, a number which might change with a new coach.

The Sacramento Kings were just above the Warriors at 11.9 passes per minute, but interestingly, ranked high in terms of player movement.

Player movement

20141016_distanceNot surprisingly, the Spurs were at the top of this list, too. Not only is the ball moving in San Antonio’s offense, but so are the players. Tony Parker is passing off and circling under the basket before getting the ball back at the top of the key. Tiago Splitter is setting multiple screens on most possessions. And Danny Green is running from corner to corner to get open while his defender is focused on the ball.

The Bobcats, Sixers, Wizards, Jazz and Bucks also ranked in the top 10 in both ball and player movement. The Warriors, Pistons, Knicks and Thunder, meanwhile, ranked in the bottom 10 in both.

The anomalies

There was a decent correlation between ball movement and player movement, but there were teams that ranked high in one and not the other.

The Kings and Pelicans each ranked in the top five in player movement, but in the bottom five in ball movement. New Orleans ranked third in the league in drives, but was the team most likely to shoot on those drives.

On average, about 65 percent of drives would result in a drawn foul or a shot by the driver. Tyreke Evans (70 percent), Eric Gordon (79 percent) and Austin Rivers (82 percent) were all guys who drove a lot, but not for the purpose of finding an open teammate.

The Kings’ offense featured a lot of cutting, but not a lot of passes. Isaiah Thomas led all starting point guards in seconds (of possession) per touch (5.45). And DeMarcus Cousins (1.95) led all power forwards and centers in the same category.

On the other side of the ledger were the Clippers and Lakers, who ranked high in ball movement (eighth and fifth, respectively), but low in player movement (22nd and 25th).

The Clippers’ offense is a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and a solid helping of post-ups, each of which draw extra defenders to the ball and create open looks for other guys. But those other guys aren’t moving that much when they’re not involved in the primary action. The Lakers, with far less talent, often swung the ball around the perimeter until somebody had enough space to launch a three.

Is better ball movement the answer?

The Spurs move the ball beautifully, move themselves often, ranked sixth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and took it to a new level in The Finals. But the Spurs are special.

There is no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. Three top-10 offenses — Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Toronto — ranked in the bottom 10 in ball movement (passes per minute in half-court possessions). And five bottom-10 offenses — Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Utah, Charlotte and the Lakers — ranked in the top 10.

If you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you don’t need to move the ball that much. And if you have the combination of Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, you’re going to get some great shots by just running a pick-and-roll. If you don’t have enough talent, it’s not going to matter much how much you move the ball.

The same goes with player movement. As noted above, the Clippers ranked 22nd in player movement (team distance per minute in half-court possessions), and they had the No. 1 offense in the league.

You might think that better ball movement allows you to better sustain your offensive success in the playoffs, when you’re facing defenses that know all your players and aim to take away your primary actions. But last year, there was no correlation between teams that moved the ball well in the regular season and those that improved offensively in the playoffs.

Again, the Spurs are special.

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players support shorter season; MJ mystified by such talk | Report: C-Webb joins group looking to buy Hawks | Smith, Van Gundy talk 3-pointers

No. 1: Nowitzki, James support shortening season, not games; Jordan puzzled by such talk — This Sunday, the NBA will experiment with a shorter-than-usual game as the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics will take part in a 44-minute preseason contest. News of that upcoming game has led to debate all over the internet (and on this very site) about whether a shorter game would be beneficial to the NBA as a whole or not. Two prominent stars in the game — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki — think shortening the length of the season, not games, would be the most beneficial change that could happen. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin and Tim McMahon have more:

“I think you don’t need 82 games to determine the best eight in each conference,” Nowitzki said Wednesday. “That could be done a lot quicker, but I always understand that it’s about money, and every missed game means missed money for both parties, for the league, for the owners, for the players. I understand all that, and that’s why I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.”

James, speaking before the Cavs hosted a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, was adamant the length of games isn’t what should be at stake. And he said most of his fellow players are in agreement.

“No. It’s not the minutes, it’s the games,” James said. “The minutes doesn’t mean anything. We can play 50-minute games if we had to. It’s just the games. We all as players think it’s too many games. In our season, 82 games is a lot. But it’s not the minutes. Taking away minutes from the game is not going to shorten the game at all.

“Once you go out and play on the floor, it don’t matter if you play 22 minutes — like I may be playing tonight — or you’re playing 40 minutes,” James added. “Once you play, it takes a toll on your body. So it’s not lessening the minutes, I think it’s the games.”

Nowitzki and James were piggybacking on the point made by Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra when asked about the league’s experiment with a 44-minute game, which will be played by the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics on Sunday.

…”Honestly, I never was a big fan of back-to-backs even when I was 20 years old,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old entering his 17th NBA season. “I think that you should never have to play at the highest level there is two consecutive nights and flying in between. You obviously make it work. We have the best athletes in the world, we feel, but I think it hurts the product some. Last year, some teams get here for the fourth game in five nights and we’ve been sitting here on rest and just blow them out.

“I don’t think it’s good for the product, but I also understand that 82 games is where it’s at. It’s a business, and everybody’s got to live with it.”

James said more analysis on the potential impact to the business side seemed to be in order.

“It’s something that we definitely will have to sit down and try figure out if that’s the case, that may happen,” James said. “Obviously I don’t know the numbers right off the top of my head, but that would create less revenue. We all know that without even seeing the books that less games, less concession stands and less selling of tickets and all of that.

“But at the end of the day, we want to protect the prize and the prize is the players. We have to continue to promote the game, and if guys are being injured because there are so many games, we can’t promote it at a high level.”

Nowitzki would like the league to look at the possibility of allowing fewer timeouts, especially at the end of games.

“It’s such a fun, fast game,” Nowitzki said. “Then there’s one action and they score, OK, there’s a timeout and you sit for two minutes. There’s another action, they score, tie it up [and another timeout is called].

“There’s no other sport where it’s interrupted so much at the end. That’s something that I would look at. Both teams are like, ‘They have another timeout? Are you kidding me?’ That’s a little much, but other than that, I think the game’s great.”

After the NBA’s best and brightest of today had that to say about the schedule, the greatest player of the NBA’s last era, Michael Jordan, said he was shocked that superstars would want to play less games. ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard has more:

“I love both of those guys, but as an owner who played the game, I loved playing,” Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, told ESPN.com during a telephone interview. “If I wasn’t playing 82 games, I still would’ve been playing somewhere else because that’s the love for the game I had. As a player, I never thought 82 games was an issue.

“But if that’s what they want to do, we as owners and players can evaluate it and talk about it. But we’d make less money as partners. Are they ready to give up money to play fewer games? That’s the question, because you can’t make the same amount of money playing fewer games.”

Jordan also didn’t see the point in shortening games by four minutes.

He said the league informed its clubs of its intention to play a 44-minute game but that it was not presented as something the league is seriously considering instituting in the regular season.

“I would never shorten the game by four minutes,” Jordan said, “unless guys were having physical issues.”

Jordan said basketball players generally don’t incur the same long-term physical ailments as football players so he can’t understand the talk of a shorter season or shorter games.

“It’s not like football,” he said. “We don’t really have to worry about concussions and some of the physical damage that football players deal with after they retire. I can understand football players wanting to play fewer games from a physical standpoint. But basketball’s not the same. I’m not diminishing the fact that we go through a grueling season. But I wouldn’t want to shorten the game or play 15-20 fewer games.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki explains why the NBA should think about a shorter season

 

Blogtable: LeBron’s MVP challenger

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> Kevin Durant is likely out of the MVP picture, making LeBron the clear frontrunner. Who is your darkhorse MVP candidate?

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think Durant is out of MVP contention simply because he’ll miss games — if OKC were to sputter along below .500 without him, then win at an .800 clip with him, that would make all the MVP case he’d need. But I’ll play along: If James doesn’t win his fifth MVP, I’m guessing Chris Paul pushes the Clippers to something special out West and snags it. Media voters love imbuing point guards will all sorts of bonus intangibles that say “valuable” (which is why Chicago’s Derrick Rose could get back in the conversation, too).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m not sure you would label Chris Paul as a dark horse. But in the  second year under Doc Rivers and with the door opened by OKC, the Clippers could make a run at best record in the West/league and that could push CP3 over the top. Way outside in dark would be Anthony Davis, if he can somehow lead the Pelicans into the playoffs.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comStephen Curry. I’ve been a believer since the day Steve Kerr was hired that Golden State is going to have a fun and loose squad that will play the same way. They’ll maintain the defensive principles, but Kerr will usher in a much more appealing, go-go offense that is going to play right into Curry’s hands. He’s set to go bonkers, folks, and the Warriors (health be with them) will follow.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: On the assumption that by darkhorse you mean “Anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant”: Anthony Davis. The problem for Davis is that this will depend a lot on his teammates — the Pelicans are in position to make the playoffs, but if they miss, AD MVP would be a hard campaign to win. The problem for the rest of the league, meanwhile, is that he is ready to burst to the next level. He is established as a superstar into the next decade. The only question is whether that future arrives in 2014-15.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose would likely split the vote in Chicago, while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul would do the same in L.A. The Spurs are too balanced and the Pelicans won’t be good enough for Anthony Davis’ candidacy. So I’ll go with Stephen Curry, with the idea that the Warriors will improve offensively (into the top seven in efficiency) and win 50-plus games again, with Curry averaging something in the range of 25 points and 10 assists.

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI don’t know that “darkhorse” is the right word to use for what Russell Westbrook will be this season, but he’s my guy. With Kevin Durant out of the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for up to two months, Russ West will have the MVP platform that has eluded him the past couple of seasons. He’s certainly played like one at times. But there has always been the Durant factor that kept him from getting the sort of MVP love his production deserved. I know his performance comes with the high-risk, high-reward factor that has always driven his biggest critics a bit crazy. But he won’t be denied if the Thunder can stay afloat in the West without Durant the way they did last season when Westbrook was recovering from his knee surgery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Russell Westbrook? For basically his entire NBA career, Westbrook has been judged almost solely based in relation to the production of his teammate, Kevin Durant. But with Durant gone, we may finally get to see maximum Westbrook, where he can take as many shots as he wants and drive to the basket as often as he wants. Durant and Westbrook account for the bulk of OKC’s offense, so without Durant there’s a lot of making up to do. But if the Thunder manage to not just survive but thrive without Durant, it could go a long way toward proving Westbrook’s value to his squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: My dark horse is… Kevin Durant. I don’t see him out of the race, even if he’s going to miss the first 20 games of the season. But he’ll have 62 more games to show everybody he deserves the prize. He’s getting closer and closer to LeBron and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that when he’ll be back. If I have to pick a name different from LeBron and KD, then I’m going with Chris Paul: the Clippers have a new spirit thanks to Steve Ballmer and he can be the guy who guide them at the top of the West.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Tony Parker could win it! It can go down like the Oscars: you know, when an actor wins the award not for the movie that he just made, but for those he had done before that. If that’s the case, then Tony Parker could win the MVP trophy, one season after the spectacular things he did with the Spurs. It’ll help his cause if San Antonio will wrap up another 55+ season and finish at the top.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m going with Blake Griffin. His offensive repertoire expanded last season and with more improvement in his game this season he should be a top candidate. There’s more tricks to his game than just dunking, he’s now a legitimate post presence and has an expanding jump shot. The next evolution of his game could be a 3-point shot. Griffin attempted 44 threes last season, hitting just 27 percent of them, but it appears that he’s testing out a 3-point shot in the preseason. Last week he showed glimpses of an expanding shot from the corner, an element that will give his game and the Clippers’ offense a new dimension. Speaking of the Clippers, they’re a legitimate contender to win the West and that generally helps when the MVP is voted on.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Blake Griffin of the Clippers. He was in the running last season, and now is one of a real top candidate. His shooting skill seems like better than last season and he can score more points by jump shot from the perimeter this season. Kevin Durant’s injured and LeBron James will share the ball more than Heat era. So I think Griffin has a big chance to get MVP, if he keeps his condition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Chris Paul. I really believe the Clippers’ point guard, the best in the league, has to elevate his game this season if the Clippers are to go to the next level. Doc Rivers’ arrival changed the Clippers for better, but until Paul takes his game to a whole new level, these Clippers will continue to stumble in the poststeason. I think somewhere CP3 realises this as well. He will want to come out aggressive and leave his stamp on this season through an MVP performance.

Juan Carlos Campos, NBA Mexico: The theory would indicate that yes, LeBron James has a clear and relatively easy path to be the league’s MVP this year. With that said, I think that Stephen Curry is more than ready to take the leap into super stardom and compete hand to hand with “King” James to be named the most valuable this season. Already in the pre-season he’s shown signs of that – just ask Kobe Bryant.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: Blake Griffin. The Clippers and Cavs have the best roster and Blake has improved his game to an amazing level: he can dunk, shoot, rebound, assist … If LeBron relaxes a bit in Cleveland … the MVP goes to L.A.

Blogtable: The NBA’s best backcourt

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

> Lots of talk this preseason, little resolution: So, which team has the best backcourt in the NBA (when everybody’s healthy)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since you didn’t specify “starting” backcourt, I’m going with the team entry and saying the San Antonio Spurs. They’re the only defending-champion backcourt in the entire NBA. (That said, I’d love to hear Lance Stephenson answer this in an unguarded moment about himself and Kemba Walker. Would anticipate bravado and entertainment.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If they’re healthy and it’s June, I want Parker and Ginobili. Over the full 82 games, give me the dynamic talent, youth and sheer brashness of Curry and Thompson.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It’s really hard not to designate Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for this distinction, but there’s a good reason why Suns management and ownership caved and paid Eric Bledsoe all that money, right? The Bledsoe-Goran Dragic combo is my pick, just a couple of hard-nosed, hustling, penetrating, 3-point shooting, defensive-minded point guards sharing the same backcourt. In the 38 games they played together (Bledsoe missed 39 games with a knee injury), they had a 108.4 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and 97.4 defensive rating, plus a True Shooting percentage of 55.7.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comGolden State over (in no particular order) Washington, Toronto and Phoenix. That’s if you’re asking about starters. If that qualifier is off, Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili should be in any conversation that has to do with best tandems, and not just in the backcourt. The Warriors get the edge because not only are Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson electric scorers, but Thompson is the kind of defender that can check multiple positions and Curry has improved as a distributor to where he is dangerous with the pass as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll take Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is one of the two or three toughest matchups in the league, as one of the best shooters in the world, with the ball in his hands all the time. Thompson is another great shooter and a solid wing defender. But there are a ton of other backcourts — Brooklyn (if you count Joe Johnson as a two), Chicago, the Clippers, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, Toronto and Washington — who you could consider if you’re putting together a top-five list.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Everyone wants to claim top honors, even backcourts that have yet to play regular season minutes together. All things being equal and with each group at their best, I don’t know you could be more explosive and more dynamic than the group the Golden State Warriors can throw at you. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are two of the best shooters/scorers in the game. Adding a wild card like Shaun Livingston to this already potent mix (which also includes swingman Andre Iguodala) makes this the most dynamic crew in the game, in my opinion.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are three pairs of players that to me jump out as being above the rest, and I mean that in terms of their offense and their defense. in no particular order: Golden State (Curry and Thompson); Toronto (Lowry and DeRozan); Washington (Wall and Beal). If I had to pick one from that trio of duos, I’d probably go with Curry and Thompson, even though Curry’s defense can lapse below average. But I think Wall and Beal aren’t far behind them, and have the advantage of youth on their side.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Love the question! Reminds me of my NBA Jam years. Boomshakalaka! The best NBA back-court is the “Spash Brothers”, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The make a great duo, they play excellent together (in Golden State, in Team USA) and they make a deadly one-two punch from beyond the arc.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: The Warrriors with the ‘Splash Brothers’ Curry and Thompson are in the top right now. More points than any backcourt in the last regular season.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: Easy W for Golden State here. The Splash Brothers are too good together to be compared to other backcourts: high shooting and passing skills, very high basketball IQ, they can win the games by themselves or play with their teammates. I think the Wizards’ Wall-Beal backcourt can have a chance to get close to the Splash Brother this year, but they both have to improve their respective overall game.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The Splash Brothers! They scored more points per game than any other backcourt, had the best 3-point percentage and outscored their opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions when they were both on the floor. They can also exploit opponents in a number of ways. Curry may be the best shooter in the game and can hit all types of whacky shots off-the-dribble, his passing game seems to improve all the time and when he gets strong defensive coverage, he dishes it off to Klay. Thompson shot 41.7 percent from deep on 535 attempts and have improved as a perimeter defender, making up for some of Steph’s defensive lapses. Klay’s offensive game has expanded as well, including post-ups, slashing and even handling and penetrating. I just wish he’d pass more!

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I don’t see any reason why we should look at anyone else other than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the Golden State Warriors. Former head coach Mark Jackson already anointed them the greatest backcourt ever.  Those two guys played a big part in Team USA’s win at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the offseason as well. The ‘Splash brothers’ can light up at any time, turning an entire ballgame on its head.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors. Their shooting skill is one of the most dangerous in the league. They can shoot from every area on the court and make clutch shot.  Curry can handle the ball and Thompson can defend. Additionally, they can pass. If they played a 2-on-2 tournament, I think they’d beat all other teams.

Blogtable: Take a minute (or four)

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> What are your initial thoughts on a 44-minute game? What’s good? What’s bad? And what do you think of the chances of this ever being adopted?

Shorter quarters might do it, but what about fewer timeouts? (Alissa Hollimon/NBAE)

Shorter quarters might do it, but what about fewer timeouts? (Alissa Hollimon/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My first thought on the 44-minute game was, if the NBA sheds four minutes per game, how will MLB manage to add it to its average running time per nine innings? That’s the sport with the real too-long problem. As for this league, while I’m not persuaded that shaving four minutes of game action would matter much, I do think cutting the number of timeouts would help. Eleven-minute quarters won’t change the way teams coach or play the final two minutes, where most of the critics lob their complaints. Call me skeptical, too, that an 8.3 percent reduction would be applied across the board. To the 24-second clock? To the players’ salaries (they’d be working shorter shifts, especially bench guys)? To the owners’ TV revenue (fewer timeouts mean fewer cash-friendly commercial breaks)? And, ahem, to the ticket prices paid by fans?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m all for doing anything that will stop regulation time games from dragging on interminably past 2 1/2 hours and toward the 3-hour mark.  Frankly, I think that could be accomplished more effectively — and making the product better to view — by eliminating two timeouts per team, especially at the end of games.  If the NBA wants to make a move to shorten the overall time of play, I’d make the bigger cut to 10-minute quarters, bringing the game in line with FIBA rules so that game is uniform all over the world.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: There’s no need to go from 48 minutes to 44 minutes in the name of shortening the game. If this is really about player health, then find a way to shorten the season. If owners want the players they pay millions of dollars to each season to remain on the floor and not in the training room then they’ll accept a few less home gates for the good of their players and the game. There are too many back-to-backs, too many stretches of four games in five nights when it is really unnecessary. Not only does it put players at great risk of injury, it diminishes the product. In short, don’t shorten the game, shorten the season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Will teams be cutting ticket prices the same percentage on nights the clock is reduced? Otherwise, I’m not moved either way. On the overall list of things of issues worth a strong stand, I’d put it just in front of advertising on uniforms. There’s nothing wrong with giving a look during one or a few exhibition games or taking a test drive through the D-League a few times. That’s a long way from the NBA making the change during its own regular season. I don’t think it happens soon, if at all.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It would make games shorter and reduce injuries over the course of the season, but would also reduce the value of players 6-15 on every roster. I think the Players Association would have a problem with that. To reduce the time of games, I’d leave them at 48 minutes, reduce the number of timeouts (as they have in the 44-minute scenario) and adopt the FIBA rule that timeouts can only be called on dead balls or after a made basket. And to reduce injures, wear and tear and back-to-backs, I’d go to a 72-game season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After watching game after game during the FIBA World Cup (where the games are just 40 minutes long) I gained a new appreciation for the 48-minute NBA game. This 44-minute experiment splits the difference. I’m not sure there is a discernible good or bad to identify in this experimental game until I actually see the game played on the 19th. Whatever the reasons are for messing with this, and I’m sure the competition committee has plenty, I don’t know that it will dramatically impact the game the way people think in the short term. The chance of this being adopted anytime soon would appear to be slim. But if they are experimenting in exhibition games, it’s at least on the radar.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Initially, I like the concept of NBA games taking less time to play. But I really don’t like the idea of playing shorter games, particularly when you’re shortening game times by all of four minutes. What bothers me is that NBA games have always been 48 minutes long, which makes comparing stats across decades so easy to do — you always know that someone averaged however many points or rebounds per game in a 48 minute game. If the NBA is really serious about shortening game times, it’s very simple: Have fewer timeouts, fewer commercial breaks, and enforce the actual timeout lengths. Losing a minute of actual game time seems like cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m for these types of changes being trialed during the preseason, there’s no better format for it to take place but I don’t think I want it introduced. Fewer timeouts is probably a positive but I’m not for it actually coming in. Does the NBA need to be closer to the length of a college game or an international game? How long would it take for coaches to adapt tactically to the changes? Credit to Adam Silver for actively looking to try new things and deliver on proposals he has brought up but I’m not so sure this will ever come into fruition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I’m not a fan of the suggestion to be honest.  I can see the positives that come with it, namely fewer minutes per game translate into shorter playing time, which would in some way reduce the workload for players in what is a long NBA season. Also, I see this as the NBA willing to bridge the gap towards FIBA’s playing time which stands at 40 minutes. However, the not-so-good part is that fewer minutes may not necessarily translate into more rest time for key players. Instead, reserve players might see their minutes drop. And then there is the whole stats issue — how do you make comparisons between players who play 44 minutes against those who played 48 minutes? I wouldn’t know the chances of something like this being adopted, but I hope this never comes to pass.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: This is very interesting. I love NBA’s such unique and flexible idea. If the system is adopted, reducing many top players’ playing time, and they may show higher quality play. But the NBA’s 48-minute game has a long history: the 48-minute frame is not too long and not too short. So I think the game time format should not change. If the NBA wants to adopt short game time anyway, I’d rather it be the 40-minute length, like the FIBA game.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: It’s great to see the NBA taking care of issues and making experiments to solve what is perceived as a problem. But I don’t see a 44-minute game happening for real. Regular season games aren’t too long. Playoffs games are, but not in terms of playing time. Fans want less ads when watching a game on TV, not less time of their favorite star on the court. Plus, a 48-minute game is part of what makes the NBA different from FIBA basketball and its 40-minute game.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I am not a big fan of changes, despite the fact that after some years I often admit that they were for the best. The 44-minute idea is very close to the FIBA playing time (40 minutes) and the plus-8 minutes was something that always held the two worlds apart, in a more distinguished way than the Atlantic ocean. Now the trend goes somethink like “less is more,” but I don’t like that minimal aspect when we are talking about the NBA. We want more!

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain : The players will be happy about the rest, but worried about the stats. Less minutes, less points. My thoughts are they are going to have to find a way to make the game faster without reducing the total time of play.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 15


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nash may come off bench for Lakers | Adams defends his style of play | Matthews thinks he’s NBA’s top two-way SG | Jackson putting Knicks through ‘mindfulness training’

No. 1: Nash likely to backup Lin on Lakers — Most would agree that the best years of Steve Nash‘s illustrious career is well behind him, but he’s still trying to make an impact for the Los Angeles Lakers as his career winds down. Apparently, if Nash hopes to do that this season, he could have to do it in a reserve role. According to Mike Bresnahan and Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, coach Byron Scott may start Jeremy Lin at the point, not the former two-time MVP Nash:

Lakers Coach Byron Scott indicated Jeremy Lin could become the starting point guard because of Nash’s recurring back problems, a switch that made sense because of Nash’s on-again, off-again availability.

Nash played well in the Lakers’ exhibition opener but sat out their second game and pulled himself out of their third exhibition at halftime because he didn’t feel right.

Nash, who turns 41 in February, played only 15 games last season and is in the last year of a three-year, $28-million contract. He averaged 6.8 assists and 5.7 assists last season.

Scott said he hadn’t officially decided on a permanent switch but appeared to lean toward Lin for continuity’s sake.

“I have no doubt in my mind that if I went to Steve and said tomorrow, ‘You know what, I’m going to start Jeremy and the games that you’re available, we’re going bring you off the bench,’ he’s such a professional that I don’t think it would be a problem whatsoever,” Scott said Tuesday.

Nash was not available for comment after the Lakers practiced but he would not fight the switch, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Either way, the Lakers planned to sit him for about one-fourth of their games throughout the regular season.

Lin said he would “no question” like to start but had a hard time articulating his thoughts on it, mainly because he respected Nash while watching NBA games as a teenager, long before he actually began playing in them.

“Just talking to him, he wants to be healthy, he wants to enjoy what is probably his last year and I would want them for him as well,” Lin said. “But at the end of the day, whatever position [Scott] calls me to, or whatever it is, I’m going to do my best.”


VIDEO: Byron Scott talks about why he would start Jeremy Lin over Steve Nash

 

Pacers need Hill to attack leading role

DALLAS – It remains a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, yet it could have been just a bit awkward for Indiana Pacers guard George Hill to watch his old team pulverize the one team his never could, and then see the player he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, celebrated as the Finals MVP.

Hill, however, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kawhi is a good friend of mine,” Hill said Sunday as the Pacers’ preseason trek brought them to Dallas. “I’m happy for his success. I’m happy for the Spurs’ success. If we’re not winning, you know, I root for them. I’m still good friends with everyone in that organization and with everyone on that team. All of them are like my brothers.”

Which is as good a segue as any when talking about these Pacers, because they’re using training camp to try to bond like brothers following a summer — and really starting from the second half of last season — of tumult. Shooting guard and the NBA’s surprising triple-double leader, Lance Stephenson, departed for Charlotte as a free agent. All-Star forward Paul George, the emerging star who allowed the Pacers to deal Leonard for point guard help in 2011, emotionally shook the franchise, and the league, when he broke his leg during the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas.

And just like that, the Pacers are a much different team, and one that will be asking Hill to bring a much different game than he really ever has, either with the Spurs where he was mostly a reserve surrounded by the Big Three, or in Indiana, where its two no-longer-available wings were so often the point of attack.

“He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot.  So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”

Vogel compared it back to when Hill first arrived.

“Before Danny Granger got hurt and Paul George and Lance Stephenson exploded, our go-to guys were David West and George Hill, and it’s just going to return to that,” Vogel said. “And they did that on a team that in the lockout season won at a 50-win pace as the two late-game go-to guys.”

That team turned a 37-45 record in 2010-11 to 42-24 with Hill backing up Darren Collison before taking over as the starter late in the season. The Pacers advanced to the East semifinals. And maybe they can again this season in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

The reorganizing Heat and Pacers have been replaced by LeBron James‘ new team, the Cavaliers, and the Bulls as conference favorites. Washington, Toronto, Brooklyn and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets could all make some noise.

“Defense wins games, so as long as we continue to play defense the right way, I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to use our defense as our offense.”

Even so, there’s little doubt that Hill will need to boost his scoring and playmaking for the Pacers not to drop to the lower rungs of the playoff chase. Hill averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists while logging 32 minutes a game last season. He shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. He ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

“Obviously he’s going to have to play a bigger role for us. He’s got to be aggressive,” West said. “It’s going to be a different role and adjustment for him, but he’s going to work himself into it, get comfortable with it. The last couple of years we’ve attacked from the wings. He’s going to have to be the point of attack for us, to really look to take his game to another level.”

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.