In the latest Shaqtin’ A Fool, Shaq salutes Andray Blatche, Russell Westbrook, Lamar Odom and Glen “Big Baby” Davis (twice!). Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After Thursday’s 90-77 win in Minnesota, the Los Angeles Clippers are now 3-0 without MVP candidate Chris Paul.
All three wins have come on the road against good teams, and in none of them have the Clippers required a huge performance from one of their other starters. In fact, Blake Griffin has averaged just 16.3 points in the three wins. Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, has done a decent job of running the team, but has totaled only 11 assists.
The Clippers won the three games — and won them all comfortably –for the same reason that Paul has been able to sit the entire fourth quarter in nine of the 37 games he’s played in: They have the best bench in basketball.
Here’s all you need to know about the Clippers’ bench and why they’re a much-improved team: Last season, the Clips were outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Griffin was on the bench. This year, they’re outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the bench.
That’s a 23.3-point turnaround and that’s really what it’s all about. A good bench should build on leads, not lose them. That’s why the Bulls’ bench was so good the last couple of years, even though it didn’t have anybody who could really score. When Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson were on the floor together, the Bulls shut down foes and scored enough to build on the lead the starters gave them.
With that in mind, here are the best benches in the NBA …
The Clips have a full, five-man bench unit that’s one of the best lineups in the league. In 243 minutes with Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf on the floor, L.A. is a plus-14.5 per 100 possessions.
Though Crawford is known for his offense, this is really a defensive unit that has only scored 102.8 points per 100 possessions, just a notch above the league average. But it has allowed only 88.3, making it the second-best defensive unit of the league’s 72 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.
The question is how Grant Hill fits in. In Hill’s first game back, that unit only played six minutes together. And in the last three games, it hasn’t played together at all, though that may have more to do with Bledsoe starting.
Either way, it would be disappointing if coach Vinny Del Negro broke up such an effective unit. And it really could affect where the Clippers finish in the Western Conference standings.
Though Manu Ginobili has been neither healthy nor sharp, the Spurs’ bench continues to get the job done. It’s just tough to determine where the starters end and where the bench begins, because eight different guys have started at least nine games for San Antonio already. But coach Gregg Popovich‘s ability to mix-and-match lineups will little drop-off is part of what makes the Spurs’ bench so good.
The Spurs don’t have a full bench unit like the Clippers. Their latest starting unit is Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Their most-used lineup that includes at least three other Spurs has only played 38 minutes together, and that lineup includes Parker and Duncan.
This is why we’d rate the Spurs’ bench behind that of the Clippers. But San Antonio is still outscoring its opponents by a solid 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Duncan off the floor. That’s a very good thing. (more…)
HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Andray Blatche can be a baaaaaad man. By both interpretations of the vernacular.
His talent (if not always his effort) is undeniably positive, a big man with a handle so supple he makes guys half his size envious. And, man, does he have moves. Like Sunday night when he sized up Sixers center Spencer Hawes a step inside the arc and with one dribble to the right put Hawes on his heels, veered into the paint, launched himself to the rim while levitating the basketball on the upturned fingertips of his right hand only to flip his wrist at the last moment and throw it down.
His behavior, however, is equally as undeniably negative. Confounding, maddening, a chain of self-inflicted screw-ups, senseless altercations, childish decision-making and outright selfishness.
Google “Andray Blatche” and “trouble.” Before you can finish typing “trouble,” “trouble again” pops up.
There are hard-headed players who enter the league too young, too ill-equipped to handle the sudden wealth and freewheeling lifestyle, or are simply too stubborn, and never materialize. Phoenix’s Michael Beasley is well down that road and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins may be, too.
For some, the light bulb eventually comes on. For others, it never does. Blatche, in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets, is standing at that career crossroads. And why not hope for a so-far feel-good story to continue that way on Christmas, when Blatche, granted new life in the league, and his recently wobbly Nets play host to the Boston Celtics (Noon ET, ESPN)?
“I’m wiser, definitely wiser,” Blatche said last week during a telephone interview. “Just more open-minded today. Back then I didn’t have my priorities straight.”
Blatche is averaging 11.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 49.8 percent shooting in 21.0 minutes as a valued reserve. His per-36 numbers have soared to career-best levels of 19.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
But, there’s also been signs that Blatche still doesn’t get it. After the Nets’ home opener, Blatche ran out of gas and thought it’d be a good idea to share his misadventure via Twitter. While an empty tank is no a crime, it’s not exactly a sign of staying on top of things. Putting it on Twitter didn’t do much to enhance his reputation.
A few weeks later, as his old Washington Wizards were in midst of a long losing streak to start the season, Blatche ribbed the club that drafted him and signed him to an extension in interviews and on Twitter. He said the Wizards, who drafted him in the second round and signed him to an extension despite numerous red flags, didn’t support him and “they tried to end me.”
So the ending to this story, happy or sad, is far from told.
“It was a reality check,” Blatche said. “I almost lost something that I love doing, so you can say it was a wake-up call.”
Blatche isn’t talking about the Wizards surrendering by using the amnesty clause to rid themselves of Blatche, even with all that talent to still to be mined and with $23 million over three seasons still to be paid.
“There was no doubt in my mind that [being amnestied] was going to happen,” Blatche said. “So it was more of just getting myself ready for the next stage of whatever was going to happen.”
Only nothing happened. Blatche’s phone didn’t ring. July, August, nothing.
“Oh yeah,” Blatche said. “During the summer, I didn’t get no phone calls.” (more…)
HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Brook Lopez is day-to-day, and a franchise holds its breath.
In his third game back last season from a broken right foot, Lopez destroyed the Dallas Mavericks for 38 points and teammate Deron Williams roared: “He was a monster tonight.”
Lopez lasted just two more games, a second injury to his size 20 right foot ending his season for good. But the league and Williams — who would choose the Nets over the Mavs last July — got a glimpse of what could be with the 7-footer with the sweet set shot.
The hard-luck Nets, rebranded in black and white and having taken Brooklyn by storm, couldn’t escape the season’s first month without another scare from Brooks’ brittle right foot. The medical report on this one — a ligament sprain to the mid-foot and not a fracture — allowed for a brief exhale.
Still, it can’t be comforting for a franchise that removed itself from the Dwight Howard circus and awarded Lopez a $61 million contract. The Stanford man played at an All-Star level in his first 14 games, leading the Nets in scoring at 18.5 points a game on a career-best 53.4 percent shooting. His rebounding is improving and he’s blocking more shots than ever before.
Most disappointing for Lopez is he didn’t miss a game through his first three seasons and now has played in just 19 of the last 83. The moment he went down in the final of two preseason games following last year’s lockout will go down as the start of his injury timeline.
There has to be real concern here, although the Nets are swallowing hard trying not to show it. Big men have endured a notorious history with chronic foot ailments, the most famous being Bill Walton, the most recent being Yao Ming.
At the moment, Lopez is listed as day-to-day. He’s missed the last three games. The Nets, 11-6 overall, are 1-2 without him, losing two games they might have lost with him, at Miami and against Oklahoma City. But Avery Johnson’s bunch sure would have loved to attack those clubs with a revived Andray Blatche spelling Brooks instead of starting for him.
Lopez’s availability for Friday’s home game against the improved Golden State Warriors is uncertain. So are the Nets’ heady prospects if problems with Lopez’s big right foot continue to persist.
I’m back with five random fantasy thoughts on our beloved NBA …
1. Gregg Popovich’s strategy of resting healthy players has been a fantasy headache for years. But after getting fined $250,000 by the league for resting the Spurs’ Big Three (plus Danny Green) for last Thursday’s TNT game against the Heat, Pop might actually give pause to doing it again. As for the other 29 teams, this fine will serve as a powerful precedent against resting healthy players — and that’s great news in the fantasy basketball world.
2. The Dwightmare morphed into Dwight’s Debacle in the first game against his former team on Sunday in Los Angeles. Dwight Howard made only 7-of-14 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter (9-of-21 in the game) as the Magic deployed the Hack-a-Dwight strategy to perfection, winning the game by 10. Don Nelson must have been proud as he watched on NBA League Pass. Much to the chagrin of Dwight’s fantasy owners, he failed to record a block for the first time this year. Oh, the irony …
3. Welcome back, Andray Blatche. In the three games since Brook Lopez injured his foot, Blatche has averaged roughly 17 points and 10 rebounds. His weight is down, his activity is up, and so are his stats. Simply jump for your mouse and ride the wave until Lopez comes back, whenever that is.
4. My Pickup of the Week is Patrick Patterson, who has 20+ points in four of his last five games. I am totally sold on the Rockets’ power forward of the future, who has a superhero build with a Midas touch. Patterson is crushing the percentages across the board, shooting 51 percent from the field, 38 percent on threes (making 0.8 of 2.1 attempts), and 77 percent from the line. Not only is Patterson an early candidate for Fantasy Pickup of the Year, but he will also generate Most Improved buzz before the year is out.
5. If you were quick enough to pick up Larry Sanders, then the fantasy bills are paid for the rest of the season in boards and blocks. Sanders recorded a triple-double with blocks last Friday against the Wolves, and he backed it up with 18 points, 16 rebounds, and five more blocks the next night against the Celtics. UNC rookie John Henson looks good as well, but the Bucks’ center gig is Sanders to lose.
Rick Kamla is an anchor on NBA TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @NBATVRick.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Along the maddening trail to 0-12, there have been the gut-punches — three points combined in consecutive overtime losses to Charlotte (double OT) and at Atlanta, a near-22-point comeback at Dallas, four points at Indiana, OT at Boston and a three-point home loss to the Celtics.
Close was not the case Monday night at Verizon Center. The still-winless Washington Wizards, still without point guard John Wall, were run out of their own gym by the surging San Antonio Spurs, 118-92, the largest margin of defeat in an already defeated season.
Adding insult to injury, former Wizards big man Andray Blatche, who’s still pocketing $23 million from the franchise after being amnestied in July and eventually signed by Brooklyn, is taking cheap shots at his old team in the media and through his own brand of bastardized English on Twitter:
Idc wat a wiz fan say yes I was outta shape Ill give yal that but no body n that organization tried to help me with—
andray blatche (@drayblatche) November 27, 2012
Feels good to be part of a winning organization—
andray blatche (@drayblatche) November 27, 2012
Such is the depressing life of the Wizards. Team president Ernie Grunfeld‘s dumping of high-priced Rashard Lewis for veterans Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor has been a disaster. The hailed return of Nene lasted two games before yet another departure to rest his problematic foot. In Nene’s limited floor time of 49 minutes, Washington is a plus-31, so the big fella can definitely help pound out a ‘W’ if he can stay on the court.
Still, Randy Wittman‘s bunch must now be viewed as a serious contender to crash the league record for consecutive losses to start a season. Just two seasons ago, the Wizards lost 25 consecutive road games to start the season, the third-longest such skid in NBA history. Last season they started 0-8.
Now they’re two-thirds to 0-18, the worst start ever by an NBA team and owned by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets. The lockout-shortened 1999 Los Angeles Clippers and the 1988-89 expansion Miami Heat started 0-17. These Wizards are the 12th team in NBA history to start a season with 12 consecutive losses.
They’ll try to avoid a baker’s dozen at home Wednesday night against a smarting Portland team that dropped an ugly one at Detroit on Monday night.
How realistic is 0-18 or — gasp! — worse? Here’s their next six: vs. Portland, at New York, vs. Miami, at Atlanta, vs. Golden State, at New Orleans. Those six teams are a combined 49-34, and the worst of the lot, the Hornets (4-9), beat the Clippers in L.A. on Monday.
Then comes this hefty four-pack: at Houston, vs. Los Angeles Lakers, at Miami, vs. Atlanta.
Before the Wizards fell to 0-7 nearly two weeks ago following a 107-101 defeat at Dallas where they reversed a blowout, but couldn’t tie it up in the final minute, first-year Washington forward Martell Webster said he and his teammates, many of them new to the team as well, are determined to turn around the moribund franchise.
“Who else is going to do it?” Webster said. “It’s easy when things don’t go well to start blaming and start pointing fingers, but I don’t believe in that. When you think about it with your family, when you have problems you don’t point fingers, you work to resolve the problem as a family, as a unit, and I think that’s the most important thing. We’re a family, a unit and we’re not going to point fingers. We’re going to take accountability and responsibility for all of our individual actions, but at the end of the day we’re settling the problem ourselves.”
Still, there’s little doubt that as the losses mount so does the mental anguish.
Things are going well for the Washington Wizards. John Wall is a year older.
And wait, there’s more: General manager Ernie Grunfeld’s over emphasis on youth has been tempered by the arrival of veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okefor and (equally important) the exit of the talented but immature Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
Bradley Beal, the No. 3 pick in the draft, is on board. And so is Randy Wittman, the head coach who earned an extension by going 18-31, including 8-2 over the last three weeks of 2011-12. If nothing else, firing Flip Saunders in January stripped away one more layer of Kevlar from Grunfeld, whose longevity in the nation’s capital almost cries out for term limits.
But -– you knew a “but” was coming, or at least a “however” — the optimism of a productive summer and a clean autumn slate got cut a little Tuesday when Grunfeld said that center/power forward Nene’s plantar fasciitis would limit him in training camp next week. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Not all NBA free agents are created equal.
Sometimes you’re Deron Williams and sometimes you’re not.
And this isn’t news to the huddled masses of familiar names and faces still looking for work with the start of training camps just a mere month away. They know that it’s time for the two-minute drill, when their options are dwindling and an invite to camp becomes a life-preserver for guys who are used to guaranteed roster spots and permanent spots in a team’s rotation.
This would explain the likes of Eddy Curry, who most likely will not be in Miami on opening night when the championship banner is raised but does have a ring with his name on it, auditioning for any team interested.
It’s the same reason you hear names like Josh Howard, who has worked out for his home state Charlotte Bobcats, Josh Childress, Hilton Armstrong and so many others — some former lottery picks (Childress) and some former All-Stars (Howard) — doing what millions of other Americans are doing right now, and that’s looking for work.
Curry and Armstrong worked out together for the Nets Wednesday, according to the New York Post:
Curry, along with Hilton Armstrong, worked out for the Nets Wednesday, according to Yahoo! Sports. Curry, the much maligned former Knick, spent last season with the Heat, playing 14 games and averaging 2.1 points while riding the coattails of LeBron James to his first NBA title.
Curry, 29, played a combined 10 games in his final three seasons with the Knicks before his contract was used as salary ballast in the Carmelo Anthony deal in February 2011.
Armstrong was part of the Nets’ free agent minicamp in May, when he earned some praise for his play from general manager Billy King.
“What I like about Hilton is he’s long and he knows how to play. I think the biggest thing for Hilton is doing it consistently,” King said at the time. “I think he got better each day. I like his length, because the one thing is it’s hard to find athletic size in this league.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The championship after party for the Dallas Mavericks was extended by five months courtesy of the lockout, an extension that the Mavericks would never blame for their struggles last season but one that most honest observers would no doubt finger as a factor in their early season struggles.
The Miami Heat, on the other hand, will experience no such thing. In fact, they’ll have what longtime Heat beat writer and observer Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel coined the “shortest offseason in the Heat’s 25 seasons of existence.” And with that compressed offseason comes a few lingering issues that could impact the reigning champs, in more ways that one.
The first two he mentions are enough to cause a little bit of concern for even the most optimistic of Heat fans:
1. The two remaining roster spots.
The 13 players already under contract for 2012-13 are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller,Norris Cole, Joel Anthony James Jones and Dexter Pittman.
Rounding out the regular-season roster could be as simple as bringing back two of the players who spent time with the team last season and currently are working out with the team, a pool that includes guard Terrel Harris, center Mickell Gladness and forward Juwan Howard.
HANG TIME, TEXAS – There have been plenty of different reasons for teams to use the amnesty provision in the new collective bargaining agreement.
By severing their ties with Elton Brand, the Sixers put themselves in a position where they could eventually land Andrew Bynum to anchor the middle of their lineuip.
The Rockets let go of Luis Scola in part to clear space for their failed pursuit of Dwight Howard, but also as a next step in an extreme makeover of their roster.
The Suns released Josh Childress so they would have cap space to acquire Scola, who they hope will be a solid, steady veteran presence as they head in a new direction in the post-Steve Nash era.
Then there are the Wizards, who cut big man Andray Blatche because, well, it was time.
The dictionary definition of amnesty is: a forgetting or overlooking any past offenses.
After seven seasons of unrealized potential, frustration and immaturity, it might be difficult for the Wizards to completely forget all that Blatche never became, but it was clearly worth the $23 million it cost to turn him loose and turn the page. (more…)