Posts Tagged ‘Al-Farouq Aminu’

Mavs get even more unconventional


VIDEO: Summer League: Rick Carlisle Interview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After three years of mediocrity, the Dallas Mavericks could be one of the best teams in the NBA again. They’ll be one of the most unique teams, for sure.

Over the last two days, the Mavs signed Jameer Nelson and agreed to terms with Al-Farouq Aminu (a replacement for and a much different player than the injured Rashard Lewis), making their depth chart look even more lopsided than it already was.

Nelson joins a backcourt that already includes Raymond Felton and Devin Harris, while Aminu joins Chandler Parsons, Richard Jefferson and Jae Crowder on the wing. Seven of the Mavs’ top 11 guys are nominal point guards or small forwards.

The other four include hybrid guard Monta Ellis, stretch four Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandan Wright, who’s basically a power forward disguised as a center. At least we’ll know what position Tyson Chandler is playing whenever he’s on the floor.

Otherwise, it’s going to be positionless basketball for the Mavs. They’re going to have two point guards on the floor quite a bit. One of the small forwards (likely Aminu) is going to be backing up Nowitzki at the four. And Ellis will be a two who handles the ball more than the three point guards.

Offensively, it should work just fine. Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-pops were already potent. But they now have, in Chandler, a better finisher down low. And they now have, in Parsons, a better attacker on the weak side.

Jose Calderon and Vince Carter will be missed. They were the Mavs’ best catch-and-shoot shooters last season. But both Parsons and Jefferson were strong in that regard as well, and Ellis and Nowitzki will make better shooters of Felton and Nelson.

It’s defense that will determine where the Mavs ultimately stand in the brutally tough Western Conference. That’s why they got back Chandler, who was the anchor of their top 10, championship defense in 2010-11.

But Chandler was also the anchor of New York defenses that ranked 17th and 24th the last two seasons. He can’t turn Dallas’ 22nd-ranked D around by himself and Shawn Marion will be missed on that end of the floor. That championship team also had Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood backing up Chandler.

In the backcourt, they can’t get worse than what they had last season. Calderon and Ellis were the Mavs’ most-used two-man combo and they allowed almost 108 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor together. They were better both offensively and defensively — though in a fraction of the minutes — with Harris and Ellis on the floor together.

Aminu is a plus defender, but his inability to shoot will limit his minutes. Otherwise, the Mavs will need guys who haven’t been great defenders to play good defense as a unit.

On both ends of the floor, the Mavs will be fascinating to watch. They’ve used trades (Chandler), a major free agent signing (Parsons), and great deals on vets (Jefferson, Nelson, Aminu) to put a lot of talent around Nowitzki, who turned 36 last month.

It’s just a matter of how it all comes together.

Morning shootaround — July 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celts out of Love chase? | Gibson hoping he’s not traded | Reports: Allen leaning toward Cavs | Report: Mavs set to add Nelson, Aminu | Why shooting matters in the NBA

No. 1: Report: Celtics getting out of Love chase? — As it stands this morning, the race to land Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love seems to be a two-horse one between the leader (Cleveland Cavaliers) and a couple of others (Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and, perhaps, Denver Nuggets). But what about the Boston Celtics? That team was thought to be a favorite to land Love — especially when he took a trip to Boston shortly after the season — but the Celtics’ name has appeared less and less in the Love chatter. According to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Boston might be ready to move on from its Love pursuit:

There’s no waiving of the white flag just yet, but the Boston Celtics appear to be ready to move on from their pursuit of Minnesota star Kevin Love, league sources tell CSNNE.com.

“The more teams step up and show interest in Love, the further Boston falls in the pack,” a source said on Wednesday. “Danny [Ainge]‘s a smart guy. He knows when to keep pushing for something and when to move on.”

That’s why the Celtics are reportedly among the clubs to express some interest in being a third team to help facilitate a trade involving Love to what one source said has become his “preferred” destination, Cleveland.

Throughout the Celtics’ offseason, they have made no secret about being open to using whatever resources they have (draft picks, trade exceptions, players) to add a high-impact player like Love who earlier this summer had expressed interest in Boston.

But as this summer continues to wind down, acquiring Love or a comparable, high-impact player become less likely with each passing day.

That’s because teams, for now at least, are far more consumed by acquiring proven talent as opposed to assets and players with potential (read: young talent).

Boston’s most tradable asset is Rajon Rondo, but the market for him is unclear because teams aren’t sold on the four-time all-star returning to the form he displayed prior to suffering a torn right ACL injury in 2013.

*** (more…)

More than ever, shooting at a premium


VIDEO: Pistons: Augustin And Butler Introduction

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if you want to win, you have to be able to shoot. There are lots of factors that go into good offense and good defense, but the most important are how well you shoot and how well you defend shots.

Over the last two seasons, 3-point shooting has taken a big jump. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the league took from 22.2 to 22.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range. Then in 2012-13, that number jumped to 24.3 percent. And last season, it jumped again to 25.9 percent.

The correlation between 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency is strong. And shooting a lot of threes is almost as important as shooting them well.

Ten of the top 15 offenses in the league were above average in terms of 3-point percentage and the percentage of their total shots that were threes. Four of the other five were in the top 10 in one or the other. And teams that didn’t shot threes well or often were generally bad offensive teams.

3-point shooting and offensive efficiency, 2013-14

Team 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank OffRtg Rank
L.A. Clippers 693 1,966 35.2% 22 29.1% 9 109.4 1
Miami 665 1,829 36.4% 12 29.2% 6 109.0 2
Dallas 721 1,877 38.4% 2 27.4% 13 109.0 3
Houston 779 2,179 35.8% 16 33.0% 1 108.6 4
Portland 770 2,071 37.2% 10 29.0% 10 108.3 5
San Antonio 698 1,757 39.7% 1 25.7% 16 108.2 6
Oklahoma City 664 1,839 36.1% 14 27.1% 14 108.1 7
Phoenix 765 2,055 37.2% 8 30.0% 5 107.1 8
Toronto 713 1,917 37.2% 9 28.5% 11 105.8 9
Minnesota 600 1,757 34.1% 26 24.5% 19 105.6 10
New York 759 2,038 37.2% 7 30.2% 3 105.4 11
Golden State 774 2,037 38.0% 4 29.1% 8 105.3 12
New Orleans 486 1,303 37.3% 6 19.3% 29 104.7 13
Brooklyn 709 1,922 36.9% 11 30.1% 4 104.4 14
Atlanta 768 2,116 36.3% 13 31.6% 2 103.4 15
Memphis 405 1,147 35.3% 19 17.1% 30 103.3 16
Denver 702 1,959 35.8% 15 27.8% 12 103.3 17
Washington 647 1,704 38.0% 5 24.6% 18 103.3 18
Detroit 507 1,580 32.1% 29 22.2% 26 102.9 19
Sacramento 491 1,475 33.3% 27 21.8% 28 102.9 20
L.A. Lakers 774 2,032 38.1% 3 29.1% 7 101.9 21
Indiana 550 1,542 35.7% 17 23.5% 23 101.5 22
Cleveland 584 1,640 35.6% 18 23.6% 21 101.3 23
Charlotte 516 1,471 35.1% 23 21.9% 27 101.2 24
Utah 543 1,577 34.4% 25 23.7% 20 100.6 25
Milwaukee 548 1,553 35.3% 20 23.1% 24 100.2 26
Boston 575 1,729 33.3% 28 25.1% 17 99.7 27
Chicago 508 1,459 34.8% 24 22.2% 25 99.7 28
Orlando 563 1,596 35.3% 21 23.5% 22 99.3 29
Philadelphia 577 1,847 31.2% 30 25.8% 15 96.8 30
TOTAL 19,054 52,974 36.0% 25.9% 104.0

 

Top 5 3P% Top 5 %FGA Top 5 OffRtg
6-10 3P% 6-10 %FGA 6-10 OffRtg
Above-avg 3P% Above-avg %FGA Above-avg OffRtg

%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. Minnesota had a top-10 offense without shooting threes well or often. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, getting to the free throw line often, and grabbing lots of offensive rebounds.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were top 10 in both 3-point percentage and percentage of shots that were threes, but were a bottom 10 offense overall, because they didn’t get to the line much and were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

Threes aren’t everything, but three is greater than two. And if you have shooting threats on the perimeter, other guys have more space to operate inside. The teams near the bottom of the table above know that to win more games, they have to score more efficiently. And to do that, they need more shooting in their rotation.

Here’s how some of them addressed their lack of shooting…

Detroit Pistons

OffRtg: 102.9 (19), 3PT%: 32.1% (29), 3PA%: 22.2% (26)
If the Sixers hadn’t played conscious-less offense at the league’s fastest pace, the Pistons would have ranked dead last in 3-point percentage. Josh Smith took 265 threes at a 26 percent clip, partly because Joe Dumars thought he could play small forward and partly because he lacks self-awareness. Of 315 players in NBA history who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, Smith ranks 314th (ahead of only Charles Barkley) in 3-point percentage.

So priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy is to get Smith to stop shooting threes, or get him to shoot threes for some other team. If we don’t consider Smith a small forward (and we shouldn’t), Detroit would have a frontcourt log-jam if Greg Monroe (a restricted free agent) is brought back. Though it’s not completely up to Van Gundy (he would need a trade partner), a choice between Monroe and Smith needs to be made.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t have many other options from beyond the arc last season. So Van Gundy added four shooters in free agency, signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to contracts that will pay them about $15 million this year. Of the 70 available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, those four ranked 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th respectively in 3-point percentage, all shooting better than 39 percent.

There’s still a question of how much of that shooting can be on the floor at one time. If Smith is traded, then the Pistons can play a decent amount of minutes with Butler or Luigi Datome playing stretch four. But in that scenario, their defense (which was already awful last season) would suffer.

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 99.7 (28), 3PT%: 34.8% (24), 3PA%: 22.2% (25)
The Pistons grabbed the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter from last season (Augustin), who will be replaced by Derrick Rose. Rose has never been a very good shooter, but obviously creates a lot more open shots for the guys around him than Augustin or Kirk Hinrich.

That will benefit Jimmy Butler (who regressed from distance last season), Mike Dunleavy (who took a smaller step back), Tony Snell (who was pretty shaky as a rookie) and rookie Doug McDermott.

In his four seasons in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau has never had a big man who can step out beyond the arc. But the Bulls’ other rotation rookie – Nikola Miroticshot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons for Real Madrid. So he gives the Bulls the ability to space the floor more than they ever have in this system.

The Bulls also added Aaron Brooks, who, at 38.7 percent, ranked 20th among available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. But if Brooks is playing a lot, it would mean that there’s another issue with Rose.

Charlotte Hornets

OffRtg: 101.2 (24), 3PT%: 35.1% (23), 3PA%: 21.9% (27)
Josh McRoberts (36.1 percent) and Marvin Williams (35.9 percent) shot about the same from 3-point range last season. But that was the first time McRoberts was a high-volume shooter from distance, while Williams has had a more consistent history.

And he should get more open shots playing off of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson than he did in Utah. But neither Walker nor Stephenson is a very good 3-point shooter themselves and the Hornets lost their best 3-point shooter from last season – Anthony Tolliver – in free agency.

The hope is that, with Stephenson taking some of the ball-handling burden away, Walker can improve as a shooter. Gerald Henderson‘s 3-point percentage has improved every season, and a healthy Jeffery Taylor could help. Still, without any much proven shooting on the roster, the Hornets’ offense has a ceiling.

Cleveland Cavaliers

OffRtg: 101.3 (23), 3PT%: 35.6% (18), 3PA%: 23.6% (21)
LeBron James changes everything. And the biggest beneficiary could be Dion Waiters, who shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season. With James attacking the basket and drawing multiple defenders, Waiters will get a ton of open looks.

James himself shot a ridiculous 48.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, so he should be able to play off Kyrie Irving pretty well and make the Cavs a more potent team from deep. Mike Miller (45.9 percent) will obviously do the same.

It’s Irving who will have to adjust to playing off the ball. He shot just 32.1 on catch-and-shoot threes last season. And at this point, the Cavs don’t have a second forward that can both shoot threes and defend the four (the Shane Battier role). Anthony Bennett could develop into that role and Kevin Love would obviously be that guy if the Cavs pull of a trade with Minnesota.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.5 (22), 3PT%: 35.7% (17), 3PA%: 23.5% (23)
There was a lot of bad shooting (and bad offense, in general) in the Central Division last season. The Pacers poached C.J. Miles (39 percent on threes over the last two seasons) from Cleveland and added a stretch big in Damjan Rudez, but lost Stephenson’s playmaking.

So there’s a ton of pressure on Paul George to create open shots for everybody else. Unless another shake-up is in store, it’s hard to see the Pacers escaping the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 103.3 (16), 3PT%: 35.3% (19), 3PA%: 17.1% (30)
The Grizzlies replaced Mike Miller (44.4 percent from three over the last three seasons) with Vince Carter (39.2 percent). That’s a slight downgrade from beyond the arc, but Carter brings more playmaking to take some of the load off of Mike Conley.

Still, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince remain integral parts of the Grizzlies’ rotation. So unless Jon Leuer emerges as a reliable stretch four off the bench, they lack the ability to put more than two (and occasionally three) shooters on the floor at once. They’ve ranked last in made 3-pointers for two straight seasons and could definitely make it three in a row.

New Orleans Pelicans

OffRtg: 104.7 (17), 3PT%: 37.3% (6), 3PA%: 19.3% (29)
Those are some strange numbers. Great shooting, but only the Grizzlies attempted fewer threes.

The absences of Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday over the last 50 games of the season was a huge issue. Another was that two of the Pelicans’ best 3-point shooters – Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow – played the same position and spent just 192 minutes on the floor together, while Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu – two perimeter guys who can’t shoot a lick – ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes played.

Evans still takes a starting perimeter position (and $11 million of salary) without supplying a reliable jumper. And replacing Jason Smith with Omer Asik also hurts floor spacing. But the Pels were ridiculously good offensively (and awful defensively) in limited minutes with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor last season, Aminu has been replaced by John Salmons, and better health will go a long way.

Additional notes

  • As noted above, the Pistons added four guys who ranked in the top 20 in 3-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts) among available free agents. The only other team that added (not re-signed) more than one was the Clippers, who added Jordan Farmar (3rd) and Spencer Hawes (5th). The Mavericks added Richard Jefferson (7th) and re-signed Dirk Nowitzki (13th), the Suns added Anthony Tolliver (6th) and re-signed P.J. Tucker (19th), and the Spurs re-signed both Patty Mills (4th) and Boris Diaw (10th).
  • The Cavs (Hawes and Miles) and Lakers (Farmar and Meeks) were the two teams that lost two of the top 20.
  • Of those 70 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only three shot above the league average (36.0 percent) and are still available. Those three are Chris Douglas-Roberts (38.6 percent), Ray Allen (37.5 percent) and Mo Williams (36.9 percent).

Pelicans’ Big Five Seeing More Time


VIDEO: Holiday, Pelicans knock off Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Sometimes, you just have to put your five best players on the floor.

That’s what New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams is able to do now that Ryan Anderson is healthy. And on Friday in Philly, Williams played his big five – Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis – for 18 1/2 minutes, the most they’d seen as a group in the six games since Anderson returned from a fractured toe.

Prior to Friday, the group had played almost half of its 32 minutes in the fourth quarter. But in Philadelphia, Williams went to the lineup midway through the first quarter, with Evans and Anderson replacing starters Anthony Morrow and Jason Smith. And the big five went right to work offensively, scoring 23 points on 11 possessions to end the period.

Evans attacked in transition, while Anderson and Gordon spaced the floor, getting easy 3s off pick-and-rolls here and here (video) thanks, in part, to the attention Davis drew in the paint. Davis is the Pelicans’ best player and that lineup’s success starts with him.

“When he runs the court, all of the attention focuses on him,” Anderson said. “So he leaves an open shot for me or, if we actually get set up down at the other end, Tyreke’s going to attack the rim and force a lot of attention himself. I think we just have a group of guys that really just know how to play in that lineup.”

That lineup struggled in a stretch during the third quarter, but overall, scored 54 points on 38 possessions on Friday, a rate of 142 per 100, which is pretty incredible.

Defense was another story, and that’s the trade-off. The Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis group allowed the Sixers to score 48 points on 36 possessions, a rate of 133 per 100, which is pretty terrible.

During that same first-quarter stint, they continuously got beat by Tony Wroten on high pick-and-rolls here, here and here.

“We try to get to that lineup, but that’s not a cure-all,” Williams said afterward. “It is a lineup that can cause problems. But we just have to learn how to defend and share the ball better.”

In 51 minutes through Friday, the lineup has scored 132 points per 100 possessions and allowed 116. So far, the great offense has outweighed the bad D. But Williams doesn’t just want to accept that trade-off.

“You can’t just put a defensive lineup on the floor [to get better defense],” Williams said before the game. “Whoever you put on the floor has to play better defense. We’re a month into it. Our guys are going to figure that out. I would like to find more minutes for that group.”

He did find more minutes for that group. Of course, more minutes for that group could mean a heavy burden for Holiday, Gordon and Davis, who start the game and with a different pair of forwards and will remain on the floor to give the big five a good run. Holiday and Gordon each played season highs in minutes on Friday.

Williams knows that Gordon, in particular, needs monitoring. He’s now played in 15 straight games for the first time since January of 2011.

“I want to play him more,” Williams said. “But I have to be aware that this is the most basketball he’s played in 2 1/2 years. So I didn’t want to rush him into it and I’ve been talking to him lately about how he feels.”

How many minutes the big five lineup gets, as well as how it performs both offensively and defensively, will be something to keep an eye on all season. Williams clearly likes bringing both Evans and Anderson off the bench, but he’s still searching for a starting small forward. Al-Farouq Aminu started the first 13 games there, but was replaced by Morrow on Friday.

“The [starting] lineup can change the next game,” Williams said. “That’s where we are right now. We haven’t gotten a ton of production out of our starting small forward position.”

They have gotten a ton of production – at least on one end of the floor – from the big five.

Vasquez, Gordon Give Hornets Some Hope

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Greivis Vasquez deserves a raise — which he’ll get in due time — or the key to the city or, heck, just make him mayor of New Orleans.

The city, and its beleaguered basketball team, couldn’t ask for a better ambassador than the Venezuelan-born point guard who’s leaving his heart and sweat on the floor every night as he emerges as a top talent in the league.

“The biggest thing is I’m getting an opportunity,” said Vasquez, a recent player of the week recipient. “Still, people don’t know about me as much because I’m playing in a small market, which I love. I love this city, I love this team.”

Pretty refreshing stuff from a third-year player just starting to hit his stride for a franchise that’s endured it’s share of hard knocks in recent years — including a hard-luck 7-25 start to this season.

Yet as I wrote after Saturday’s 99-96 overtime win at Dallas, the season really started at that moment. Add Monday’s impressive thumping of the San Antonio Spurs in front of 11,599 that ended a seven-game home losing streak, and Wednesday’s fourth-quarter comeback against the previously streaking Houston Rockets, and the Hornets are on a roll with their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Why the reset on the season?

Because the ridiculously youthful Hornets finally got game-changer and now-healthy shooting guard Eric Gordon in the starting lineup Saturday. It allowed coach Monty Williams to make other changes and roll out the starting five he envisioned.

And this is where Vasquez’s ambassadorial value comes shining through. A 6-foot-6, bearded jolt of energy, smiles, enthusiasm and positivity, his team-first attitude is absolutely contagious. It’s critical to the evolution of this franchise, and no more so than as it relates to Gordon, the 6-foot-3 scoring machine deemed the future of the franchise when New Orleans acquired him in the painful CP3 trade 13 months ago.

“I have a good relationship with Eric and I tell you this, we have been talking a lot,” Vasquez said before Saturday’s comeback victory. “Eric is a pro. I feel him as a player too, because his knee was really bothering him. But now he feels like his teammates got his back, we all got his back. We all know he’s going to make us better and we’re going to make him better. And now, we talked [Friday] night, we’re going to make this situation a great situation. We’re going to start winning games.

“For a guy like that to say that to a guy like me, that means a lot. I’m sure he’s saying that on behalf of the whole team because we’re winners, we want to win and we work. And that has been the main thing of our team, we’re going to work regardless. Whether we lose or win tomorrow we are getting better because our vision is in the future.” (more…)

Following The Script, Hornets’ Gordon Closes Out Mavs

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DALLAS – As far as the New Orleans Hornets are concerned, the season started Saturday night, Jan. 5, with a 99-96 overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

“It kind of is,” said Hornets guard Eric Gordon after his first start of the season and after he scored eight of his 14 points — and the Hornets’ final eight points — in the OT. “We’re still a little bit banged up health-wise and we’re still trying to get there, but I would say this is the type of win that kind of does something for us.”

No kidding.

Hey, 1-0 looks a whole lot better than the 8-and-20-whatever that the official standings will have you believe. But forget the standings when it comes to this scrappy, intruiging group of young kids trying to make it work in NOLA. Even before Saturday night’s big road win, as players dressed and stretched in the visiting locker room, a freshness and exuberance could be sensed.

For one, the 6-foot-3 Gordon was returning to the lineup for just his third game and his first start of the season. He was given the previous game off to rest after playing two games in his long-awaited comeback from a knee injury that followed him to New Orleans from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Chris Paul trade.

And whatever happened with Gordon after the trade, his lingering injury and his Phoenix-or-bust ambitions during the offseason mean nothing now to his growing teammates.

Second, Hornets coach Monty Williams, for the first time this season, trotted out the starting five he envisioned from the start: Emerging point guard sensation Greivis Vasquez, Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Robin Lopez and No. 1 pick Anthony Davis. That quintet’s average age is 22.8 and allows Williams to utilize the 20-year-old Austin Rivers from his rightful spot off the bench.

Vasquez, remarkably the old man of the group in just his third season at age 25, and the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, could barely control his enthusiasm to finally start — and finish — a game next to Gordon, a man of considerable scoring ability.

“What Eric is going to bring to the table is we have been in games without him and now he can close those games out for us,” Vasquez said prior to the game. “He can be our closer. That’s what he does for us.”

Cue the Gordon highlight reel.

After struggling through a rocky shooting night, Gordon rode the coattails of Vasquez’s monster, 15-point fourth quarter that rallied the Hornets to an 89-89 tie after regulation. The underrated Vasquez, stuffing the stat sheet again with 25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and a lone turnover in 41 minutes, had a chance to win in it regulation, but a screen failed to set him free and he never got a clean look as the clock expired.

“He’s for sure underrated and he’s going to be a big-time playmaker,” Gordon said. “He’s definitely underrated and he’s just getting better and better with every game.”

Gordon, unfazed by a 1-for-9 shooting night in regulation, turned the final 1:49 into a clinic of late-game execution. His driving layup cut Dallas’ lead to 94-93. Then he drained a 3-pointer to put the Hornets up 96-94 with 1:18 to go. Mavs forward Shawn Marion tied it at 96-96.

After missing a 3-pointer for the lead with 39.9 seconds to go, Gordon got a reprieve when O.J. Mayo, cold all night, missed a pull-up jumper (plus two earlier open corner 3s in overtime). Gordon went to work on undersized Mavs point guard Darren  Collison.

Gordon pump-faked at the top of the circle and Collison bit. Gordon leaned forward, drew contact and heaved a shot that hit the backboard square and dropped in with 4.7 seconds to play. He completed the 3-point play to close it out just as Vasquez envisioned.

“Our record really doesn’t identify who we are,” Vasquez said. “We have been in games and because our inexperience really gets to us, teams have been able to beat us the last two minutes of the game. But it is a learning process. I tell you, we have this vision that we are going to be a great team, and that takes some time. In the NBA, it’s too cruel, it’s cold-blooded. You’ve got to understand that you have to have really a strong mindset because it’s not going to be easy. We’re going through that.”

And on this night they persevered when they could have folded multiple times. After leading 25-19, Dallas bridged the first and second quarters with a 13-0 run. The Mavs led by 11 in the third quarter and with Dirk Nowitzki having made his debut in the starting lineup in his seventh game back, they looked to be salting away a game they desperately needed before embarking on a three-game road trip.

But Nowitzki, who finished with 20 points, would be held to three points on 1-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime. Instead it was Vasquez and the 24-year-old Gordon taking charge.

Asked before the game what he hoped to get from his first-time starting five, Williams, the Hornets’ impressive 41-year-old coach said,  “Wins.”

He got one. More importantly his young, clawing team finally got rewarded for their effort and got a glimpse for once of what a closer looks like on their own squad. For the first time in the 20th game this season that New Orleans trailed after three quarters, they pulled one out.

“Eric is a player that most people on the East Coast and even here don’t get to see because the Clippers didn’t play on TV as much, or at all when he was there,” Williams said. “But he’s a guy that can score the ball. He can shoot 3s, he can attack the basket, he can get to the free-throw line.”

Gordon did all three in the final 1:49 Saturday night, the first night of the rest of the Hornets’ season.

The Chris Paul Trade, One Year Later

It’s obviously a happy anniversary around Clippers HQ. They’re winning, Chris Paul has been everything they hoped for in performance and personality and every indication is he will re-sign as a free agent in July, and every certainty is that he has done exactly as promised in keeping the contract issue from turning into a hazmat spill the way it did for others in previous years. Raise a toast.

Not you, Hornets.

One year later, New Orleans can say it has moved on from the Paul saga, except that it really hasn’t. The future of Eric Gordon, the centerpiece of the return among existing players, is an unknown. The future of Austin Rivers, drafted with the pick acquired from the Clippers, is an unknown as a rookie in a difficult transition. The future of Al-Farouq Aminu is more encouraging than any time in his two-plus seasons as a pro, which is something, but a small portion of the resolution.

There is no real closure from Dec. 14, 2011, with Paul, along with a pair of second-round picks, going to the Clippers for Gordon, Aminu, Chris Kaman and the Timberwolves’ first-round pick that landed at No. 10. Kaman played 47 of the 66 games last season before leaving as a free agent without the Hornets flipping him into anything, but all other books are open.

Gordon: He is young (24 on Christmas), talented (22.3 points per game in 2010-11), versatile on offense (has range, handles well enough for a shooting guard that some thought he could be a point guard as he entered college in 2007)… and far away. Gordon played nine games last season in his inaugural Hornets campaign and has yet to play in 2012-13 because of a knee injury. There is no timetable for his return.

Rivers: The son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers is the first to say the career turn to becoming a full-time point guard is an adjustment. It’s also just beginning, not only because Austin is one-fourth of the way through his rookie season, but because he will eventually, presumably, have to learn to play in the same backcourt as Gordon. For now, the former Duke standout is averaging seven points, 2.9 assists and 1.4 turnovers in 27.6 minutes while shooting 32.5 percent with 11 starts in 20 games.

Aminu: The No. 8 pick in 2010 by the Clippers has gone from 5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 20 minutes and 40.2 percent his first two seasons to 9.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 29.3 minutes and 47.2 percent. Although the majority of his success is coming very close to the basket, Aminu hitting any shot, after 39.4 percent as a rookie in L.A. and 41.1 last season in New Orleans, is an important. He was once a top prospect, but he’s still just 22 and could have a future yet at small forward.

Given Gordon’s health and Rivers’ inexperience, it will probably be at least one more anniversary and maybe longer, depending on the Gordon recovery, until any solid read on the deal working out for the Hornets. If they get a starting backcourt for eight or 10 years out of it, that’s a pretty good salvage job from a bad situation. But if Gordon is limping through seasons, plural, it obviously becomes a much different outcome.

Ex-Clipper Kaman Says Old Team On Rise


DALLAS –
As Chris Kaman returns to Los Angeles Wednesday for the first time to play the Clippers since the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2003 traded him nearly one year ago for Chris Paul, the 7-foot center shared his unique perspective on his former club’s sordid history under owner Donald Sterling and its ongoing venture to reverse field as…

“The worst possible franchise in NBA and all sports history … to one of the top ones,” Kaman said.

But, before you think Kaman is about to roll on the floor laughing…

“And I think that’s possible,” continued Kaman, now the starting center for the Dallas Mavericks after a brief stop in New Orleans following the Dec. 14, 2011 trade that also sent Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu to the Hornets, and completely recast the Clippers. “They’re in L.A., they got the market, they got the sponsors, they got the people, they got the fans, they’re getting the players. It’s getting there.”

With All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin surrounded by a deep and talented supporting cast, the Clippers sit atop the Pacific Division at 11-6. They are in the very real position of turning three decades of failure and embarrassment into a bright, new era bubbling with possibility if…

“If Sterling sold the team,” Kaman quipped, “they might be able to.”

But, before you think Kaman is about to rip on the stingiest and arguably the most abhorred owner in league history…

“The truth of the thing is, while I was there my first four to six years, he was tight with everything.  He didn’t want to spend the money,” Kaman said. “I think as he’s getting older he’s realizing, ‘Hey, I don’t know how much time I have left, whatever it is, I’m older.’ You can’t, you know, win in the grave. I’m serious. I think he’s getting close to 80 years old and I think that he’s seeing like, “Hey, I’m getting older, I’m not getting any younger, I want to try to win.’ So he’s putting that money out.”

Kaman noted the team’s $50 million, state-of-the-art practice facility that opened in 2008 in an upscale West Los Angeles neighborhood, the contract extension afforded to Griffin, the free-agent signings of Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford and several other smaller examples of Sterling opening his wallet that are less noticeable to the public, but that players notice.

The question now is whether it will be enough to keep Paul, who promised to give the Clippers a two-year test run and is expected to become a free agent after the season. The truth, of course, is the Clippers need Paul more than Paul needs the Clippers.

Yet, few franchises offer the promise of becoming a living legend if Paul helps to turn one of sports’ worst franchises into one of the best.

“They made the trade last year for me, Eric and Farouq and I thought for the organization of the Clippers, that was an awesome trade,” Kaman said. “You’ve seen since they picked him up all the guys wanting to be there. Before he was there no one wanted to be there. It was like people hated themselves for being there.”

If the Clippers can convince Paul to stay, he and Griffin will play together for at least the next four seasons. And that has the potential to transform L.A’s longtime red-headed stepchild of a franchise into a targeted destination of future free agents and, against all odds, a perennial contender.

“They’re coming a long ways,” Kaman said. “And I think the next three to five years, if they can keep on to Chris Paul, and maybe get some other young talent in there, they have a great opportunity to at least be successful, whether it’s winning the championship or just getting there.”

Nigeria Will Be A Different Test For U.S.

LONDON – Moments after a 47-point beating of Tunisia Tuesday night, Tyson Chandler was asked if he had seen anyone on the opposing team capable of joining him one day in the NBA.

Ever the diplomat, Chandler didn’t take that bait.

“Well, I honestly wasn’t focused on that,” he said. “My focus was on winning the game and that’s really all I was thinking about.”

That’s fair. Tunisia is the only team in the Olympic field that doesn’t boast at least one player with NBA experience. Nigeria, the team that the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team tussles with later today (5:15 p.m. ET) will provide a different test than that young Tunisia team did.

Nigeria has several American-born players with NBA ties on their roster, including Hornets swingman Al-Farouq Aminu, the No. 8 pick in the 2010 Draft, and former NBA players Ike Diogu and Olumide Oyedeji. Aminu’s older brothe, Alade, is a former Georgia Tech star.

Nigeria might be the most surprising team here, considering the road it had to travel to get to the Olympics.

The Nigerians pulled off a couple of stunners in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament, including upset wins over Lithuania and Greece, as well as a 25-point, 10-rebound performance by Diogu in a win over Hawks All-Star center Al Horford and the Dominican Republic that clinched Nigeria’s first ticket to the Olympics.

The Nigerians didn’t waste any time making themselves comfortable, knocking off African champion Tunisia in their opener before coming back to earth Tuesday in an ugly 72-53 loss to Lithuania.

(more…)

Lithuania Thumps Nigeria 72-53

LONDON – Lithuania’s veterans helped them to their first win in Olympic competition this morning as Darius Songaila and Linas Kleiza combined for 23 points in a 72-53 win over Nigeria.

Rimantas Kaukenas added 10 points and Sarunas Jasikevicius nine points and nine assists for Lithuania, which built a 19-point lead before halftime only to see Nigeria close to within seven points, 34-27, by halftime. But they resumed the basketball clinic after halftime, outplaying Nigeria on both ends of the floor throughout second half.

Al-Farouq Aminu and Ike Diogu had double-doubles for Nigeria. Aminu had 12 points and 11 rebounds; Diogu finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. But Nigeria made just one of their 16 attempts from beyond the 3-point line and shot just 24 percent (16-for-66) for overall.

Nigeria plays the U.S. Thursday.