Posts Tagged ‘Al Jefferson’

East Reserves: Hard To Spread Around

VIDEO: Debating the East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans have been named. In the Eastern Conference, you voted in Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Nice work, though there are probably a couple of guards more deserving than Irving.

Over the next few days, East coaches will vote for the reserves, which will be announced next Thursday on TNT. Given the relative futility of most teams outside of Indiana and Miami, it’s difficult to name anybody that’s obviously an All-Star.

Really, if we were putting together a team of 12 guys to represent the strength of the East this season, we’d have six Pacers, five Heat, and an empty roster spot to represent the Raptors’ improvement after trading Rudy Gay.

The conference’s coaches will probably let some other guys in, though. They’re asked to vote for two backcourt players, three frontcourt players, and two wildcards. They can’t vote for their own guys.

For Jeff Caplan‘s look at the Western Conference bench, click here.

Here are my picks in the East …

THE BACKCOURT

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have carried the Toronto offense since the Gay trade. Lance Stephenson is the second-leading scorer and leading assist man for the best team in the league, while John Wall leads the conference in assists per contest. Arron Afflalo has put up strong numbers for a really bad team.

Ultimately, Lowry and Wall have been the two best point guards in the East, and have their teams in the top six in the standings.

My picks: Lowry and Wall.

THE FRONTCOURT

As the anchor of the best defense of the last 37 years, Roy Hibbert is the most obvious reserve pick in the East. Teammate David West, as another key cog for the league’s best team who ranks ninth (among players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes) in the East in PIE, also has a case.

Paul Millsap has been a beast for the team that currently ranks third in the conference, while Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao all deserve consideration for their two-way contributions. Al Jefferson has carried the Charlotte offense and, oh yeah, there’s the Heat’s second most important player, Chris Bosh.

My picks: Bosh, Hibbert and Millsap.

THE WILD CARDS

In addition to the names listed above, Andre Drummond, Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young all belong in the conversation, though if any of them were in the Western Conference, they could have booked their Feb. 14 trip to the Bahamas long ago.

Though it may compromise the aesthetics of the game, the best choices are the role-playing bigs. Noah is the best player on the fifth-best team in the conference and the Cavs have been much better with Varejao on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench.

My picks: Noah and Varejao

Free-Agent Barometer: Boom or Bust

Back in the hot fun of summertime, when there seem to be more dollars available than grains of sand, every free-agent signing is made to feel like a day at the beach.

Now, as we approach halfway mark of the season, it’s time to take the temperature:

GLOWING


VIDEO: Relive Dwight Howard’s signing with the Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard, Rockets — There are times when he is too passive and does not demand the ball enough from all of the inexperienced hands in the Houston lineup. But a healthy, happy Howard has been everything the Rockets hoped for when they forked over $88.5 million to lure him away from the Lakers. There is a bounce to his step and joy to his game that had been missing since the 2008-09 season in Orlando. With him in the middle and playing off James Harden, the Rockets are on track to eventually becoming a championship contender.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — Don’t try to pigeonhole him or stick on a label as an elite defender or a greyhound that thrives in the transition game. He is simply a wonderful all around player that can do whatever is necessary in any situation. He was the spark that lifted the Nuggets a year ago to a franchise-best 57 wins and he’s moved to Golden State to become a difference-maker for the Warriors. For all of the (deserving) All-Star accolades to Stephen Curry and attention paid to Klay Thompson, Iguodala is the one that makes this fun and entertaining team truly dangerous.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — When it finally came time for the Hawks to cut the cord with Josh Smith, they went for his polar opposite. Not at all flamboyant, never trying to things outside his job description, Millsap comes to work every night and never leaves his team feeling shortchanged. His two-year, $19 million contract might have been the best free-agent bargain of the summer and he’s fit right in perfectly on the frontline in Atlanta. He’s blue-collar ways in the low post and on the boards has been needed even more since Atlanta lost Al Horford for the season.

Al Jefferson, Bobcats — One thing rookie coach Steve Clifford knew was that for the Bobcats to pick themselves up from their semi-permanent residence on the Eastern Conference floor, they needed a low-post presence to get some hard-fought points in the paint. He suffered an ankle injury in training camp and started slow, but once Jefferson got his legs under him, he’s averaged 16.8 points and 10 rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Charlotte (16 wins) is a sure bet to surpass last season’s 21-win campaign.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavericks guard Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis, Mavericks — We won’t go as far as Dallas owner Mark Cuban to say that the jury is still out on whether Ellis or Howard is the free-agent catch of the season. After all, we’re pretty sure Cuban would make a 1-for-1 swap right now. As coach of the Warriors years ago, ex-Mavs coach Don Nelson called Ellis selfish. But the once shot-happy Ellis has reined some of his tendencies and found a comfortable home in Dallas. He’s averaging 5.8 apg and his upbeat production is keeping the Mavs alive in the West playoff race.

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves — Every team he’s played on throughout a 10-year NBA career has gotten efficiency and production. He’s one of those players who can give you 20 points a game on a minimum number of shots due to a knack for drawing free throws. There have been many things lacking for Minnesota during another underachieving run, but Martin has come through with the kind of numbers — 19.3 points per game — that were expected.

SUNBURNED


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses where Andrew Bynum may end up next

Andrew Bynum, CavaliersSigning him to a two-year, $24 million contract (that was only half-guaranteed in Season 1) was supposed to make it a no-brainer for the Cavs. Of course, the no brain place continues to be between Bynum’s ears as he quickly alienated teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization. He had a pair of 20-point games with 13 and 10 rebounds. But his biggest positive effect was as a payroll-slashing trade chip that eventually brought in Luol Deng.

Josh Smith, Pistons — Don’t let Joe Dumars near your piggy bank. Four years ago, the general manager wasted a Brinks truck full of money to bring in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and put the Pistons into a deep hole. This time Dumars dug deeper with his idea that he could give $54 million for four years to Smith and put him into a super-sized front line with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith has clashed with coach Maurice Cheeks, found himself sitting on the bench at the end of games and still takes bad shots at a high rate. Is anybody surprised?

Chris Kaman, Lakers — The money spent by the Lakers — $3.2 million, one year — could probably have been scraped up out of the sofa cushions in the luxury suites at Staples Center. But no matter how you slice it, the thought that Kaman was going to return to L.A. and help the Lakers in their most trying season was laughable in hindsight. Kaman has never found a way into the rotation, has frequently expressed his displeasure with coach Mike D’Antoni and now spends more time lobbing verbal bombs in frustration than tracking down rebounds or shooting.

IN THE SHADE

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — With Jrue Holiday out of the lineup indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg and the team still reportedly trying to trade Eric Gordon, this would be the time when Evans can step up and really shine. He’s been far from a bust and doggedly fought to keep himself in the Pelicans’ lineup despite the fact that he keeps reinsuring a sprained left ankle. But that $44 million, four-year contract raises expectations for more than 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. At this point, the jury is still out.

Jefferson Credited For — Yes — Defense

Charlotte Bobcats v Sacramento Kings

Al Jefferson is pleased to get a rare compliment about his defense. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Because his hearing was never the problem, the comments about his poor defense registered loud and clear, as did the diplomatic non-answer answers through the years whenever a coach or teammate was asked about the topic and didn’t want to trash Al Jefferson. He got it.

So when Jefferson joined the Bobcats this season, coach Steve Clifford quickly made the point that Jefferson’s defense wasn’t really as bad as people made it seem. There was a back-handed compliment in there somewhere, but there was also a match strike that led to the veteran center being newly motivated on that side of the ball and becoming a key component of the team that is fifth in the league in shooting defense and sixth in points allowed per 100 possessions.

“It means a lot,” Jefferson said of Clifford’s comments, words of praise that have continued long past the start of the season. “It motivates me. It motivates me to continue to get better on defense. I never heard my name and ‘great defense’ in anything. People always criticized me about my defense. I really don’t care what people think, but just to finally hear somebody giving me a compliment.”

Clifford gave him that compliment, but also a challenge. Tapping into pride, the new coach talked to Jefferson about his reputation. He put the image of a talented post scorer who gives a lot of the points back in the other end in front of Jefferson.

“He didn’t want to be the weak link defensively,” Clifford said. “And I think as he’s come in, despite the fact that he’s not healthy, he’s really done a good job.”

The bruised right ankle that cost Jefferson nine games in November remains a problem, reducing his lift, but he is at 17 points and 10.1 rebounds while 34th in defensive impact,  a measurement mostly of big men on blocks, steals and protecting the rim.

“I think he’s played a lot better defensively than anybody ever gave him credit for in the past,” Clifford said. “Whatever the knock on him, I guess, when he was younger was that he didn’t pass the ball out of the post, which he does very efficiently now. And the knock on him when we got him was that he wouldn’t defend. His defense has been good. It’s been solid. What people don’t know is, he’s not near a 100 percent. His ankle is what it is. I don’t think for the rest of this year he’s going to have the lift or the explosiveness he had last year and yet he goes out every night, doesn’t say anything. He competes hard.”

The Bobcats, at 15-21 on pace for the playoffs, are trying to recover from a decline in defensive intensity. Clifford has wanted to see better focus, but Charlotte should also benefit from the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who fractured his left hand Dec. 3, as soon as Tuesday against the Knicks.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 11


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nash injures back in loss to Wolves | Woodson rips Knicks’ effort vs. Spurs | Jefferson may return tonight for Bobcats | Adelman cautiously uses advanced stats

No. 1: Nash leaves game with back pain, will see doctor — Through eight games this season, the Lakers find themselves at 3-5 after getting off to a 2-2 start. Point guard Steve Nash has played in only six of those games this season as the Lakers and coach Mike D’Antoni have attempted to keep the point guard as fresh as possible by resting him in the second night of back-to-back games, a plan devised by D’Antoni. But as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports, Nash suffered a back injury during last night’s loss to the Wolves and will see a specialist soon:

Steve Nash exited the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-90 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves early on Sunday night because of back pain and will visit Dr. Robert Watkins, a back specialist, on Monday for evaluation.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni pulled Nash from the game with 1:42 remaining in the second quarter and the point guard did not return, finishing with two points and three assists in 13 minutes.

“It’s tough,” Nash said after the game. “I hesitate to even talk about it now because it’s probably not a good time. I’m a little emotional. It’s hard. I really want to play and I really want to play the way I am accustomed to playing. To be so limited is frustrating and also to not know where kind of a cleanish bill of health is [coming] is a little daunting, too.”

The two-time league MVP told reporters last week he is still struggling with nerve issues stemming from the broken left leg he suffered last season that caused him to miss 32 games.

“I still feel that almost every day all over,” Nash said of the nerve discomfort. “It’s not just in that spot [in his left leg]. It’s like the nerve system and nerve roots are on guard. So the whole system in a way is different now. It’s just a little more sensitive, and you face different things because of it. So, freaky, freaky thing, but I can’t complain. I’m still playing basketball and I’m still effective and I can get better physically and my game will come around the more I play.”

Nash detailed his injuries after the game on Sunday.

“I have, obviously, back issues,” Nash said. “It’s nerves coming from my back. You could call it the back, you could call it the nerves. I’m getting the pain in the hamstring. … It’s basically the same thing from the end of last year.”

Nash missed the Lakers’ final two playoff games in the first round against the San Antonio Spurs last season, unable to play despite receiving three epidural injections in his right hamstring in the span of a week to try to get back on the court.

“I’m trying to play through it but at the same time be smart and try to overcome what I can and see,” said Nash, who added that the same issues had been bothering him for the last several weeks. “But it’s taken a bit of a turn for the worse.”


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni on loss, Nash’s injury

***

No. 2: Woodson, Anthony rip Knicks’ effort vs. Spurs — The Knicks got J.R. Smith back in the lineup yesterday after he served his NBA-mandated five-game suspension for a substance abuse policy violation, but not even his return to spark New York to a win. The Spurs took care of business against the Knicks in Sunday’s matinee, ripping New York by 31 points, which drew the ire of coach Mike Woodson and star forward Carmelo Anthony, writes ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley:

“We didn’t compete tonight. That’s just unacceptable,” Woodson said. “Right from the start, we let our offense, shots that we missed, dictate how we defended on the other end.”

The Knicks fell behind 10-0 to start the game and trailed by as many as 18 in the first quarter. They heard boos throughout the game from the sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd.

After the game, Woodson was asked if the Knicks showed any pride in the second half as the Spurs’ lead ballooned to 37 points.

“No. No. Not at all. It’s something that will be addressed [in Monday's practice]. It’s just unacceptable,” the coach said. “It’s my job to push them through it and try to get them over the hump. I know we’re a better team than what we’ve shown.”

Carmelo Anthony agreed with his coach’s assertion.

“It was embarrassing for us to come here on our home court and lose a game like this,” said Anthony, who scored 16 points on 10 shots and sat for most of the fourth quarter. “It wasn’t about losing a game. It was just how we lost the game. We didn’t compete today, and it showed out there on the court.”

The loss was one of the worst in Woodson’s 112-game tenure and continued a nightmare start to the season for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Mike Woodson says Knicks ‘didn’t compete’ vs. Spurs

***

No. 3: Bobcats get Clifford back in practice; Jefferson to return soon? — Last Thursday night, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford began experiencing chest pains that ultimately led to him missing Charlotte’s game against New York so that he could have two stents placed in his heart. Clifford has been given the medical OK to coach tonight’s game against the Hawks (7 ET, League Pass) and while he’ll be back on the job, the Bobcats may also get starting center Al Jefferson back tonight, too. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more on Charlotte’s news:

Coach Steve Clifford was at practice Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena, two days after two stents were inserted into his heart to guard against blockages. Clifford felt chest pain Thursday night and was admitted to Presbyterian Hospital.

Meanwhile center Al Jefferson, who played in the season-opener against the Houston Rockets, then missed the next five games, returned to practice for the first time since re-injuring his right ankle.

Clifford said he’s “hopeful” Jefferson can play against the Hawks, but that won’t be determined until they see how his ankle responds Monday to a full practice.

Clifford is in a dramatically better position than he was Thursday night, when the chest pains started. A first-time NBA head coach, Clifford said there is a history of coronary disease in his family.

“I was lucky. It was a warning sign and I’ve since been educated that a lot of people who have strokes or heart attacks don’t get warning signs,” Clifford said. “Also fortunate I had great doctors. They have a good plan for me, and I’m going to follow it and get better quickly.”

Clifford will have shorter workdays, at least for the next week. He can coach games and travel, but doctors want him resting most of the time in-between.

Jefferson sprained his right ankle in the second preseason game against the Miami Heat. He played in the season-opener, then was stiff and sore enough that he couldn’t play the second regular-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over a week later, he said it’s now primarily a bone bruise along his ankle that is the issue.

Jefferson played one-on-one games the three days leading up to Sunday’s practice to test the injury. He said he felt out of game shape,but has done enough workouts on a stationary bike that he should recover full game shape in about a week.

A key free-agent acquisition – he signed a three-year, $41 million contract in July –  Jefferson is wary of another setback.

“I don’t want to play one game, then sit out another two weeks,” Jefferson said. “When I come back, I want to come back to stay.”

***

No. 4: Adelman cautiously embraces new-wave stats — Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman is no stranger to the the new-wave stats revolution that has swept up the NBA. He was coach of the Houston Rockets from 2008-11, which coincided with the rise of the team’s GM, Daryl Morey, and his advocacy of advanced stats. Though thought to be an old-school coaching type, Adelman isn’t so gruff that he can’t see the value in advanced stats, but he’s taking a careful view of them nonetheless, writes Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com:

Speaking before his team took on the Lakers Sunday night, he talked about the biggest challenge for a lot of coaches dealing with this — how to get the information from stats across to the players in a meaningful way.

“Maybe I’m just old fashioned or whatever, but when they give us stats and everything like that I kind of know what’s coming,” Adelman said. “I’ve seen it, I’ve observed it, I may not know all the reasons, and they give you very good input, but I think it’s knowing what you run offensively, knowing what your tendencies are, those things all help…

“I think in the playoffs it gives you a bigger factor, because we play so many games in a week you know can have stats one game after another. So you pick and choose what you show players, you pick and choose how to reach them, and I think changes from week to week.”

Adelman in the end said what most coaches and scouts say about the stats — they’re a nice tool, but just another tool.

“There’s so much out there now, we had a ton of it in Houston when we were there, I think all that stuff is a tool that you can use to be better to help your players be better, but that’s what it is,” Adelman said. “You still have to play the game out on the court.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gives the Warriors a big vote of approval … The Lakers’ bench crew is the best in the leagueMarkieff Morris and the Suns continue to sizzle out West

ICYMI Of The Night: Suns coach Jeff Hornacek is showing faith in Gerald Green early in the season, who has played at least 25 minutes in each of Phoenix’s last five games. Green is responding with some great play, including this amazing jam last night against the Pelicans …


VIDEO: Gerald Green shows off his tremendous ups vs. New Orleans

Improved ‘D’ Fuels Quick Start For Bobcats, Suns And Magic

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s early.

But the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t the only surprise team of the 2013-14 season’s first 10 days. The Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns – three teams projected by most to finish in the in the bottom five of the league – are all 3-2 entering Friday’s 12-game slate.

When we look at these three rosters, we see a lack of talent. And from that we can predict that they will struggle offensively. But team defense is another story, especially when you have a new coach, like in Charlotte and Phoenix. Organization and energy on defense can help teams with limited talent overachieve. And defense is the common theme in the early success of these three squads, though one of the three has been much more successful on that end of the floor.

Again, it’s early.

But the Magic, Suns and Bobcats rank third, eighth and 13th in defensive efficiency, respectively. And they all rank among the six most improved defensive teams from last season.

Here’s a closer look…

Charlotte

DefRtg: 100.4 (13th)
Improvement: -8.6 (6th)

The Bobcats’ wins have come against the Cavs, Knicks and Raptors, by a total of 13 points. So just like last year’s 7-5 start, there’s a fool’s gold element here.

In only one of their five games – the win over Cleveland – have they held their opponent under a point per possession. And the Cavs currently rank 29th in offensive efficiency. Bobcats opponents have been a hair less efficient (100.3 points scored per 100 possessions) in their 20 games not against Charlotte.

That doesn’t mean that the future Hornets don’t have anything to feel positive about. They had a hobbled Al Jefferson for just their first game and scored 107 points per 100 possessions over their last two wins. Once they add a healthy Jefferson to their Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions pick-and-rolls, the offense should be even better.

And long term, the Cats will be more organized defensively under Steve Clifford than they were under Mike Dunlap. The early defensive numbers are a little inflated though.

Phoenix

DefRtg: 96.4 (8th)
Improvement: -9.3 (5th)

The Suns have beaten Portland, Utah and New Orleans by a total of 22 points. And they also hung in with the Thunder and Spurs on the road. Their opponents have scored 100.0 points per 100 possessions in their 18 games not against Phoenix.

The Suns had the worst 3-point defense in the league last season and were particularly bad at defending the arc (41.5 percent) with Michael Beasley on the floor. There’s definitely an addition-by-subtraction element here.

They’ve also improved quite a bit on the glass, ranking 11th in defensive rebounding percentage (74.8 percent) after ranking 23rd (71.9 percent) last season. More playing time for the Morris twins has helped in that regard. The Suns have grabbed 75.4 percent of available defensive boards and allowed just 90.6 points per 100 possessions in 148 minutes with one of the two twins on the floor.

Time will tell if Jeff Hornacek‘s defense will continue to hold up, but the signs are good so far. They host the Nuggets and Pelicans this weekend and could face their toughest defensive test on Wednesday, when they visit the Blazers, who currently rank sixth offensively.

Orlando

DefRtg: 94.8 (3rd)
Improvement: -11.9 (1st)

Of the three teams, it’s the Magic who have looked most legit, with wins over the Pelicans, Nets and Clippers by a total of 49 points.

Last season, the Magic defense was strong early in the season, but collapsed after Glen Davis got hurt. So the prospects of them being a decent defensive team while Davis was still recovering from foot surgery were not good. But here they are at No. 3 in the league, having held the Pelicans, Nets and Clippers under 90 points per 100 possessions.

Both Brooklyn and L.A. spoke about a lack of effort in their games in Orlando. The Nets were probably feeling themselves after last Friday’s win over the Heat, and the Clippers were maybe looking forward to their own game against the champs.

But Orlando’s defensive numbers are pretty darn impressive anyway. The Pelicans, Nets and Clippers scored a combined 89.5 points per 100 possessions against Orlando, compared to 108.0 in their other 12 games. L.A. currently ranks No. 1 in the league offensively.

Orlando opponents OffRtg

Team vs. ORL Other games Diff.
Indiana 101.0 99.4 +1.6
Minnesota 103.5 94.1 +9.4
New Orleans 91.4 103.7 -12.2
Brooklyn 89.0 102.5 -13.4
L.A. Clippers 88.0 114.5 -26.4
TOTAL 94.8 103.4 -8.5

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

The Magic are forcing 1.2 more turnovers per 100 possessions than they did last season, but the early improvement has been mostly about shot defense. And there’s multiple elements to that.

They’re defending the rim better, defending the 3-point line better, and allowing less of those high-efficiency shots. Only 48.1 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or from 3-point range, the second-lowest rate in the league. Last season, that number was 56.7 percent, the 14th lowest rate in the league.

Of Brooklyn’s 89 shots in Orlando last Sunday, 50 came from between the restricted area and the 3-point line. On Wednesday, it was 55 of the Clippers’ 95 shots.

The Magic had a multiple-prong game plan against the Clips, and it worked. First, they sagged deep on Chris Paul‘s pick-and-rolls.

20131106_paul_sag

Paul stepped into some easy elbow jumpers, but the sagging strategy prevented him from getting past the Magic big men and really compromising the Orlando D.

Second, they dared Blake Griffin to shoot from mid-range.

20131106_griffin_space

Griffin was 3-for-13 from outside the paint before that game, but shot an impressive 7-for-13 from mid-range on Wednesday. Still, he got just three shots at the rim.

Finally, the Magic cross-matched in the backcourt, assigning Jameer Nelson to defend his old teammate J.J. Redick. And Nelson did a fantastic job of running Redick off the 3-point line. Here are a couple of examples…


Redick is a great shooter from everywhere, but three is greater than two, so if you can force him into more mid-range shots than threes, you’re doing your job. On Wednesday, Redick was 1-for-5 from 3-point range and 3-for-8 from mid-range.

One more time: It’s early. But an ability to execute a defensive game plan against a great offensive team like that early in the season is a good sign for the Magic defense.

Jordan Calls Pera Challenge ‘Comical’





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan offered an appropriate response for a laughable challenge from Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, who wanted to challenge arguably the greatest player of all-time to a game of one-on-one for charity.

Jordan dismissed Pera’s Twitter antics by laughing at his fellow owner.

“I think that’s comical,” Jordan told the Charlotte Observer. “It didn’t make any sense. Why would I play one one-on-one? It’s a no-win situation for me no matter what.”

Pera issued his challenge Monday night, accompanied by a video (above) showing off his on-court prowess:

Jordan let it simmer for a while before brushing Pera aside. Pera’s intentions were most noble, he was trying to raise $1 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Trying to do it at the expense of a fellow owner who also happens to be a Hall of Fame player and considered by many the greatest player in NBA history, didn’t win him any points with Jordan’s legion of fans and admirers.

Jordan’s response was certainly appropriate. He didn’t take the bait from Pera, who at 35 is 15 years younger than Jordan. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted from his most pressing concerns, which revolve around reviving a Bobcats franchise that is breaking in yet another new coach, Steve Clifford, and several new faces, including veteran big man Al Jefferson and rookie 7-footer Cody Zeller.

Jordan told the Observer that he is pleased with the progress he’s seen on all fronts:

“I’m so happy about Steve. He’s a very professional guy. Professional in a way that the players can respond. He’s worked with some very good programs. I’ve watched him with the players. He has the right patience and rapport – he knows how to position himself with the players.

“That’s a big move for us because no matter how we spend on players, it starts with the coach. I’m not putting down (predecessor) Mike Dunlap. He had some of the same qualities.”

On Jefferson:

“Jefferson is a great addition. He’s been asked to be a leader on the basketball court. He’s never been asked to do that before. But he has some credence with our guys and I think they’ll respond.”

On Zeller:

“I love Zeller. To me, he’s a connector like (Josh) McRoberts, only more talented. He’ll make teammates better. He’s not flashy in what he does, but he’ll be a really solid player for us.”


If Pera wants a challenge he might be able to win, he’d should ask his Grizzlies to challenge Jordan’s Bobcats. But owner-on-owner, he’s a major underdog any way you slice it. (Here are a couple of reminders for you Mr. Pera!):




One Team, One Stat: Utah’s Young Bigs Bring The D

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Utah Jazz, who are going with the youth movement.

The basics
UTA Rank
W-L 43-39 15
Pace 93.4 20
OffRtg 103.6 12
DefRtg 104.3 21
NetRtg -0.7 17

The stat

98.3 - Points per 100 possessions that the Jazz defense allowed with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the floor together.

The context

That’s 9.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than the Jazz allowed with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on the floor together. The Jazz were basically a top-five defense with the two young bigs on the floor and a bottom-five defense with the two vets.

Overall, the Jazz ranked 21st defensively, because Jefferson and Millsap played a lot more minutes together. Their offense was good enough to make the playoffs, but their D held them back.

It’s a give-and-take with Jefferson, who is a talented interior scorer, but a defensive liability. In his last six seasons (three in Minnesota and three in Utah), his teams ranked 27th, 27th, 28th, 24th, 20th and 21st defensively. And it would be hard to imagine this year’s Bobcats not ranking in the bottom five, especially with Brendan Haywood injured.

If last year’s numbers are any indication, the Jazz should move up the defensive rankings.

Jazz efficiency with big man combinations on the floor

Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Jefferson + Millsap* 75 1,858 92.9 105.1 107.6 -2.5 -104
Favors + Jefferson* 74 725 91.8 102.7 108.5 -5.8 -60
Favors + Kanter** 64 706 95.1 99.4 98.3 +1.0 +29
Favors + Millsap*** 55 445 90.7 107.3 102.7 +4.6 +49
Kanter + Millsap** 37 169 96.9 107.4 93.6 +13.7 +58
Jefferson + Kanter 13 51 95.7 102.3 112.3 -10.0 -6

* = Includes 85 minutes of Favors, Jefferson and Millsap on the floor together.
** = Includes 36 minutes of Favors, Kanter and Millsap on the floor together.
*** = Includes 121 minutes of the two 3-man combinations above.

In regard to their defensive numbers, the Favors-Kanter combination had the advantage of playing, for the most part, against opposing second units, which weren’t as potent offensively as the starting lineups that Jefferson and Millsap faced. They also played less than half the minutes that Jefferson and Millsap played together, and only time will tell if they can sustain a high level of defense over a full season of extended playing time.

But both the numbers and the film are promising. Below are some clips from a Dec. 19 game in Indiana in which Favors and Kanter were a plus-9 in 23 minutes together, holding the Pacers to just 37 points:


Now, that game was a blowout and 12 of the 23 minutes came in the fourth quarter, when the outcome was already decided. The Indiana bench was also pretty terrible offensively last season. But we see Favors and Kanter stopping Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert. Their activity, energy, and multiple efforts are clear.

The Jazz were pretty bad offensively with Favors and Kanter on the floor together, and they’re probably going to be pretty bad offensively this season. Gordon Hayward is bound for a breakout year, but Utah will need to see some development from the bigs on that end of the floor as well.

Last year, the good defense outweighed the bad offense. The Jazz aren’t a better team without Millsap and Jefferson, but they might not be as bad as you think. And in the long run, they look to be in great shape with a pair of bigs, ages 21 and 22, who can defend.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: Bobcats Rookies Brought Defense To The Table

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. The order will be worst to first, which means that the Charlotte Bobcats — who finished with the league’s worst point differential last season — lead off.

The basics
CHA Rank
W-L 21-61 29
Pace 94.0 16
OffRtg 98.3 28
DefRtg 108.9 30
NetRtg -10.6 30

The stat

99.8 - Points per 100 possessions allowed by the Bobcats in 590 minutes with rookies Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor on the floor together.

The context

Overall, the Bobcats’ defense was terrible. They ranked last in defensive efficiency (see the table on the right), allowing 108.9 points per 100 possessions. But the mark with the two rookies on the floor was that of a top-five defense. Considering that rookies are usually defensive liabilities, it’s pretty remarkable. Both guys are long and active, with good instincts.

Here are a few examples of MKG’s and Taylor’s defensive prowess…


The contributions of Brendan Haywood shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s a proven defensive center* who was on the floor for 246 of those 590 minutes. Charlotte was a plus-10 and allowed a paltry 91.2 points per 100 possessions in those 246 minutes with their three best defenders on the floor.

*The Mavs’ defense regressed more when they went from Haywood to Chris Kaman at starting center last year than when they went from Tyson Chandler to Haywood the year before.

Of the 14 Bobcats who logged at least 300 minutes last season, Haywood had the lowest on-court defensive rating. Charlotte allowed 5.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Haywood on the floor than they did with him on the bench.

So, with the Bobcats’ defense in mind, there are a couple of interesting questions regarding Steve Clifford‘s rotation this season…

1. How much playing time will Haywood get? Al Jefferson is the starting center and was a necessary addition to kick-start an offense that was barely better than the defense last season. But Jefferson is a defensive liability, so the Bobcats will continue to struggle on that end if he takes most of Haywood’s minutes. Jefferson and Haywood could only play together against other big lineups, and if Haywood is the backup center, does that mean that Cody Zeller is a power forward and/or that Charlotte has given up on Bismack Biyombo?

2. Will Kidd-Gilchrist and Taylor play together much? A lot of their minutes together came in games that either Gerald Henderson or Ben Gordon missed. If everybody’s healthy, Gordon will back up Henderson and Taylor will likely back up MKG. Taylor might make a decent small-ball four, but that takes away playing time from Zeller, Josh McRoberts (who was pretty good for the Bobcats at the end of last season) and Anthony Tolliver (a solid glue guy).

The Bobcats were the worst team in the league last season and still have one of the weakest rosters, but they strangely might have too much depth at certain positions. If injuries don’t make certain decisions for him, it will be fun to see how Clifford distributes minutes.

Either way, there’s promise in the Bobcats’ returning, second-year small forwards. Kidd-Gilchrist has all the tools except for a jump shot, while Taylor showed some improved offensive skills at Summer League and EuroBasket. If Clifford can find playing time for both of them, the Bobcats’ defense might not be so terrible.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Heat, Thunder (And One Surprise Squad) Lead League In Roster Continuity

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In the NBA, continuity and success are closely linked. Talented teams need time together — maybe two or three seasons — before they can make the most of that talent. And teams that win usually stick with what they’ve got.

So it should be no surprise that the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs — the three teams that won the most games last season — are keeping their rosters mostly intact.

Despite the departure of Mike Miller, the Heat will return 95 percent of their regular-season minutes leaders, a number that leads the league by a good amount. The Thunder lost Kevin Martin, but are still returning 87 percent of last season’s minutes, a number that ranks second. The Spurs swapped Gary Neal for Marco Belinelli and obviously aren’t bringing back Stephen Jackson, but will have 82 percent of last season’s minutes on this year’s roster, a number that ranks fourth.

Who ranks third at 85 percent?

The Indiana Pacers? Nope. They’re eighth at 74 percent, having said goodbye to Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green.

The Memphis Grizzlies? No. They’re sixth at 76 percent, because the 1,514 minutes Rudy Gay played before he was traded are part of the calculation.

What about the New York Knicks? Not even close. They’re 17th at 66 percent, thanks to the departures of Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland.

No, the team that’s bringing back more minutes than the Spurs is … the 21-61 Charlotte Bobcats.

The Bobcats have a new coach, drafted Cody Zeller with the No. 4 pick and signed Al Jefferson. But they’re also bringing back 11 players who logged almost 17,000 minutes for them last season.

Jefferson and Zeller will take minutes away from some of those guys and help on offense, where Charlotte ranked 28th last season. But this is a group that ranked dead last in defensive efficiency, so Jefferson will hurt more than help there and Zeller needs time to adjust to the NBA.

It’s up to new coach Steve Clifford to change things around defensively. Or maybe the Bobcats can count on their continuity.

Here’s the full list of what each team is bringing back. It’s possible that a number here could change, because a few teams have both open roster spots and available free agents (like Atlanta and Ivan Johnson), but they won’t change much.

Returning minutes from last season

Team Total Min. Ret. Players Ret. Min. Ret. %
Miami 19,880 13 18,858 94.9%
Oklahoma City 19,830 13 17,162 86.5%
Charlotte 19,805 11 16,891 85.3%
San Antonio 19,880 12 16,376 82.4%
Washington 19,855 11 16,018 80.7%
Memphis 19,805 9 15,091 76.2%
Orlando 19,780 11 14,910 75.4%
Indiana 19,590 8 14,589 74.5%
Portland 19,855 8 14,555 73.3%
Chicago 19,830 9 14,352 72.4%
Golden State 19,805 8 14,118 71.3%
Sacramento 19,830 9 13,875 70.0%
Houston 19,780 10 13,839 70.0%
Cleveland 19,730 7 13,207 66.9%
Denver 19,905 11 13,278 66.7%
L.A. Clippers 19,730 8 13,119 66.5%
New York 19,730 8 13,009 65.9%
Toronto 19,980 9 13,117 65.7%
Minnesota 19,730 8 12,539 63.6%
Phoenix 19,805 8 12,231 61.8%
Brooklyn 19,855 8 12,073 60.8%
New Orleans 19,780 8 11,991 60.6%
Detroit 19,805 8 12,004 60.6%
Philadelphia 19,755 8 11,312 57.3%
Boston 19,840 7 10,763 54.2%
Atlanta 19,855 7 10,309 51.9%
L.A. Lakers 19,755 7 9,794 49.6%
Dallas 19,980 6 8,723 43.7%
Utah 19,880 6 8,048 40.5%
Milwaukee 19,830 5 6,226 31.4%