Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Davis’

You can’t protect the rim if you’re not there


VIDEO: Inside The NBA: Rachel Nichols sits down with Anthony Davis

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Rim protection is a key element to a good defense. But your center can’t protect the rim if he isn’t there.

And while *our SportVU defensive impact numbers tell us how well opponents shoot when a player is at the rim to defend it, it helps to know just how often he’s actually there.

* Note: After you navigate to the defensive impact page, it helps to set a filter of >= 4 Opp FGA at Rim per game to narrow the list down to big men. At this point in the season, an additional filter of 15 games played eliminates anybody with a small sample size. The filters are found by clicking on the gear on the right side of the blue header bar.

And a further dig into SportVU data can tell us just how often a rim protector is at the rim to protect it.

The defensive impact page shows shots that were taken within five feet of the defender when he was within five feet of the rim. So the shot could have been taken from more than five feet out. To see what rim protectors were most often protecting the rim, I asked the SportVU folks to just show me shots from five feet and in.

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So Denver opponents have attempted 202 shots within five feet of the basket with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor, and he’s been there to defend 115 of those shots. Of course, he hasn’t defended them particularly well for a guy who’s seven feet tall.

Andrew Bogut and Rudy Gobert, however, protect the rim pretty well. And by keeping them near the basket, their teams allow them to protect it more often than not. These numbers also don’t account for shots at the rim that they’ve prevented.

Here’s the other end of the list…

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Most of the guys on this list spend some time at power forward. LaMarcus Aldridge has played about 75 percent of his minutes with either Robin Lopez or Chris Kaman. But he did play some center after Lopez got hurt and before he was injured himself.

Anthony Davis is a more interesting name on this list. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Pelicans allow the highest percentage of opponent shots in the restricted area. That’s still true, the Pelicans still rank as a bottom-six defensive team even though they employ both Davis and Omer Asik, and that’s still rather baffling.

Davis is the power forward when Asik is on the floor. And that he’s sometimes guarding Dirk Nowitzki or Markieff Morris partially explains why he’s on this list.

But Davis would still be on this list if he was the Pelicans’ full-time center. In his minutes without Asik, Alexis Ajinca or Jeff Withey on the floor, Davis has been at the rim to protect only 33.8 percent (125/370) of opponent shots there.

Note: Asik has been at the rim to defend 50.2 percent of opponent shots there, a rate which ranks 19th on this list of 69 centers and PF/Cs. He could certainly be higher on the list himself.

In total, no player 6-foot-8 or taller has been on the floor for more opponent shots within five feet of the basket than Davis. Yet, 20 different guys have been at the rim to defend more of those shots.

Gobert is a few inches taller than Davis, but they’re similarly long-armed and bouncy. For every 100 opponent shots at the rim, Gobert is there to defend 56 of them. Even when he’s playing center, Davis is there for just 34. That’s a big difference.

It’s cool that Davis blocks jump shots, but it would be better if he was defending more shots near the basket. The biggest reason the Pelicans rank in the bottom 10 defensively and can’t win more than two games in a row is that they don’t protect the rim.

New faces, new places for All-Star starters

VIDEO: Stephen Curry is the leading vote-getter for the NBA All-Star Game starters

NEW YORK CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will feature several first-time starters, as well several players making return All-Star appearances while representing new places. But perhaps the most surprising news from the All-Star voting results is a changing of the guard atop the polls.

NBA All-Star 2015Cleveland’s LeBron James, last season’s overall vote-getting leader while a member of the Miami Heat, led the voting through each of the initial voting updates this season. But a late push from Golden State’s Stephen Curry made the Warriors guard the overall leader, with 1,513,324 votes to James’ 1,470,483.

The other big surprise in final voting totals was the rise of Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. In the first voting totals, announced on Christmas Day, Lowry was in fourth among Eastern Conference guards, behind Washington’s John Wall, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. Irving started last season’s game for the Eastern Conference and went on to win the All-Star Game MVP.

In the most recent results, announced two weeks ago, Lowry had leapfrogged Irving to move into third place but was still over 100,000 votes behind Wade, with 406,974 votes to Wade’s 507,326 . But the Raptors campaigned hard for Lowry, with social media support from people like hip-hop star Drake and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which apparently rallied enough support to push the 28-year-old Lowry, who has never been an All-Star, into the starting lineup. Lowry finished with 805,290 votes to Wade’s 789,839.

Last season’s second-leading vote-getter was Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, with 1,396,294 votes. Durant went on to win his first NBA MVP award. But Durant has missed 23 of OKC’s 42 games this season while recovering from a foot fracture, while his teammate Russell Westbrook, himself a three-time All-Star, has missed 14 games with a hand injury.

For the second year in a row, forwards and centers were lumped into one frontcourt category. Each conference’s starting five will include one of the Gasol brothers — Memphis’ Marc for the West and Chicago’s Pau for the East, in his first season as an Eastern Conference player. New Orleans big man Anthony Davis, who one year ago made his All-Star debut as a Western Conference reserve, will join Marc in the Western Conference starting lineup, giving the West plenty of size along the front line.

Some players are noticeable by their absence. Despite winning the NBA title in dominant fashion a season ago, no San Antonio Spurs players were named to the starting lineup in the West. And in the East, no Atlanta Hawks charted among the top five, even though the Hawks currently are 35-8 and have a six game lead atop the Eastern Conference.

Houston’s James Harden probably has the best claim to a starting spot among those not voted to the starting fives. Harden currently leads the NBA in points per game at 27.2 per night. This year he was the only player over a million votes (1,069,368) not to make the starting lineup.

But could history repeat itself? Last season Harden was selected as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference starting lineup, and the announcement earlier today that Kobe Bryant suffered a torn rotator cuff last night puts his participation this year in doubt. If Bryant is unable to play, the Western Conference All-Star coach, Steve Kerr, will select his replacement in the starting lineup from among the players selected as reserves, where Harden would seem to be a lock. The reserves will be announced next Thursday night, Jan. 29.

Golden State’s Kerr will be the first rookie coach to coach in an All-Star Game since Larry Bird in 1998. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who is just in his second year as an NBA head coach, will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Feb. 15.

THE EAST

Frontcourt

LeBron James, Cavaliers — No surprise that the league’s reigning best all-around player made the cut. After flipping from Miami to Cleveland in the offseason and a slow start with the Cavs, James recently sat out 8 games to recuperate from nagging injuries. In five games since returning, King James has averaged 30.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 6.0 apg.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — This must be a high point in an otherwise rough season for Anthony, who has averaged 24 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 33 games for the woeful Knicks, who are just 7-36 on the season. Anthony will likely be the only New York or Brooklyn representative in the game.

Pau Gasol, Bulls After 13 seasons in the Western Conference with the Grizzlies and Lakers, a move East to Chicago has vaulted Gasol into his first All-Star game since 2011, and the first All-Star start of his career. It’s well-deserved: At 34 years old, Gasol is averaging 18.7 ppg along with a career-high 11.4 rpg.

Backcourt

John Wall, Wizards — After making his first All-Star appearance one year ago as a reserve, this season Wall was voted in as the leader among Eastern Conference guards. The 24-year-old Wall is having a breakout season, leading the Wiz to a 29-14 record while averaging 17 ppg and leading the NBA at 10 apg.

Kyle Lowry, Raptors In his ninth NBA season, for the last few seasons Lowry has been the Eastern Conference player probably most deserving of an All-Star nod that never came. This season, Lowry is averaging 19.8 ppg, 7.5 apg and 4.9 rpg, career highs across the board.

THE WEST

Frontcourt

Blake Griffin, Clippers — All-Star Weekend is nothing new for Griffin — he’s been a participant every year since 2011, the same year he won the Slam Dunk Contest by leaping over a car. But his game has evolved over the years, using less power and more touch. This season Griffin is averaging 23 ppg and 7.6 rpg for the 28-14 Clippers.

Marc Gasol, Grizzlies — The younger Gasol brother has made just one previous All-Star appearance, in 2012. But Gasol was named the Defensive Player of the Year last season, and this season has assumed a central role in the Memphis attack, posting 8.2 rpg along with a career-high 19.3 ppg.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans – The Unibrow is officially among the NBA elite. After a summer anchoring the gold medal-winning USA Basketball team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Davis has continued his strong play into the season. The versatile 21-year-old seven-footer, in just his third NBA season, is currently averaging a double-double, with 24.3 ppg to go with 10.4 rpg, as well as leading the league with 2.9 blocks a night.

Backcourt

Stephen Curry, Warriors – Thus far this season, Curry has been the best player for the league’s best team. In his sixth NBA season, Curry is averaging 23.2 ppg and 8.1 apg for the Warriors, who began the season 16-0 and are currently 34-6 overall.

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — After sitting out last year’s game while recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, the Mamba was again selected an All-Star starter, although like last season, an injury could curtail his participation. Even at 36 years old, the 16-time All-Star has remained effective, averaging 22.3 points per game this season in 35 appearances.

All-Star starters announced tonight on TNT

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Can the King stay on top?

The race between Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry to be the overall leader in voting for the 2015 All-Star Game looks to be coming down to the wire.

NBA All-Star 2015We will discover the winner tonight with the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game starters, which airs live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET.

LeBron has led in both the Eastern Conference and overall voting since initial totals were announced, totaling 971,299 votes in the most recent returns. Right on James’ heels was Curry, with 958,014 votes.

Sandwiched around the announcement of those voting totals, James missed eight games to rest injuries. Whether that absence will cut into James’ overall vote total remains to be seen. Since returning, he’s played in five games, averaging 30.6 ppg, 7.o rpg and 6.0 apg.

With attention focused on Curry and James at the top of the charts, it’s probably also worth keeping an eye on New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis, who at last count was third overall with 922,381 votes, nearly 50,000 behind James but making Davis the only player besides James and Curry with over 900,000 total votes.

There haven’t been any changes in either Conference’s starting five since the initial voting totals were announced, but a significant surge happened in the last announcement totals. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry leapfrogged Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving to move into third among Eastern Conference guards behind John Wall and Dwyane Wade. The Raptors have mounted a significant social media campaign to get out the vote for Lowry, though at last count Lowry was still well behind Wade (406,974 votes to Wade’s 507,326).

If voting patterns hold, joining James, Wall and Wade as starters for the Eastern Conference should be Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol.

For the Western Conference, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol look to hold on to their spots alongside Curry and Davis in the starting lineup.

With last night’s Atlanta win over Indiana, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer clinched the job of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars and Golden State’s Steve Kerr will helm the Western Conference. Yet aside from Curry, no other players from either team were in the top five at any position in either conference in the most recent voting.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of the Emmy Award-winning pregame show “Inside the NBA,” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Spurs at the Bulls (8 p.m. ET) and the Nets at the Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET).

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.

Curry closes on James in final All-Star voting update

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King is still on top … but just barely.

LeBron James remains the overall leader in voting for the 2015 All-Star Game in the latest results released today, with 971,299 votes. But Golden State’s Stephen Curry is right on his heels with 958,014 total votes. In the third and final 2015 All-Star voting update, James and Curry remain atop their respective conferences, as they have been from the start.

NBA All-Star 2015The top ten vote-getters remain unchanged. Joining James in the East are Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, with a backcourt of John Wall and Dwyane Wade. Along with Curry in the West are Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Kobe Bryant in the backcourt alongside Curry.

There was some movement in this latest round of results. Toronto guard Kyle Lowry was a big gainer, passing Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving for third among Eastern guards, but with 406,974 votes, Lowry is still over 100,000 votes behind Wade for a starting spot.

Washington’s Marcin Gortat passed Chicago’s Joakim Noah to move into sixth among Eastern Conference big men.

The Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks still don’t have a player in the top ten; Hawks forward Paul Millsap is 13th overall among Eastern Conference forwards.

This is the final voting update before the All-Star starting lineups are announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. ET, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Loss to Rockets have the Heat, Bosh falling in the East standings | Change in ownership looming, Hawks sell themselves on courts | Reality bites the Wolves

No. 1: Loss to Houston has Heat dazed — Funny how the NBA grind goes sometime. The Rockets went into their game with Miami wobbly from a 28-point thumping against  the Pelicans that was so bad, Rockets coach Kevin McHale benched his entire starting five at one point and remarked afterward: “I wish we never played again … we’re falling apart.” Then on Saturday they turned around and beat Miami by 36. The NBA season is weird that way. The other interesting subplot in this game involved Chris Bosh, who weighed a free agent offer from the Rockets last summer before returning to Miami. It was a hectic period for Houston. Essentially, they lost Chandler Parsons in free agency because they were chasing Bosh, who was born and raised in Texas (Dallas). With Bosh, the Rockets envisioned a starting five of Parsons, Bosh, James Harden and Dwight Howard and figured to make a much more serious run in the West. As it was, Bosh took the max offer and stand in South Beach. Well, things worked out well financially for Bosh, but here in Year One without You Know Who, the Heat have lost four straight and are in eighth place in the East, one game ahead of the Pacers for the final playoff spot. Their ninth set of back-to-back games will conclude Sunday against the Nets. Bosh is among those wondering where the next winning streak will come. He could’ve taken less money and won more games in Houston but refuses to re-think his choice. Jenny Dial Creech of The Houston Chronicle has more:

“I wanted to see if I could have that increased role and still be successful and it’s out there in front of me and it’s out there in front of this team so I just have to make sure I do my part and make sure we don’t lose track of whats important, as far as our effort and energy on the court,” Bosh said. “We have to continue to bring it, no matter what happens.”

Bosh’s role has increased and he has been relied on to bring more offense to the Heat. He went from averaging 16.2 points per game last season to 21.4 this season.

With the added offensive responsibilities comes better defense. Bosh said teams play him differently this year and he is trying to use that competition to become a better player in his 12th season.

“That’s all I’m trying to concentrate on, most of the time,” Bosh said. “It’s different every night and I have to read and react very quickly throughout the course of the game and figure things out.”

***

No. 2: Change in ownership is coming, and so are Hawks — Well, look who’s in first place in the East all of a sudden. An unexpected season in Atlanta just turned up a notch when the Hawks went to Portland and had their way against the Blazers. They led for much of the night and kept holding off Portland and suddenly you must ask yourself: Are the Hawks for real? It looks that way. Not only are they leading the East, the Hawks have beaten some of the best teams in the West, including the Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets and now Blazers to win 18 of their last 20, including four straight. Paul Millsap scored 27 points and pretty much secured a spot on the All-Star team with another solid night and the Hawks once again used an offensive system built on finding the open man to confuse Portland,which was 18-2 and 9-0 against East teams at home. This comes on the heels of news that current Hawks ownership has agreed to sell 100 percent of the team. This might be the first time the Atlanta Spirit group agreed on anything. Since forming and buying the Hawks, the multi-layered group has clashed on issues. But after seeing the purchase price for the Bucks and Clippers, the owners have agreed to cash out in unison, which will only help hike the purchase price. The identity of the next owner remains to be seen but there is a chance the Hawks could change hands this season. And when that ownership swap happens, only then will the fate of Danny Ferry be decided. That’s the weird part about the Hawks and their first-place status. The guy who built them is in exile after a tumultuous summer, choosing to take a leave of absence. But you have to think Ferry will have an excellent chance to slide back into his office, given how the Hawks have played lately. We should also add that Jeff Teague is averaging 24 points and 8 assists over the last four games. Anyway, while it’s hard to single out one player on the Hawks who’s responsible for what we’re seeing, Millsap is having a strong season here in his walk year. The Hawks would love to extend not only him, but Al Horford, who’s deal has one more season left. Tony Jones of The Tribune has more on Millsap, the former Jazz forward:

The points. The rebounds. The career high numbers in assists and steals. The All-Star recognition of last season and the realization round the NBA that he’s one of the best power forwards in the league. None of it matters much to Paul Millsap. It’s nice and all and yes, he’s opened eyes since leaving the Utah Jazz two summers ago. But Millsap has been and always wants to be known for winning, and this may be his best chance.

As the calendar turns to 2015, Millsap and the Hawks have a common goal: Taking the Eastern Conference.

“We feel like we have a shot,” Millsap said. “We know that last year didn’t end up the way we wanted. We thought we should’ve won that seventh game at Indiana (in the first round of the playoffs). We want to go farther this year.”

Millsap is a walking nightly mismatch. Yes, he’s undersized as a 6-8 power forward. But he now possesses three-point range, and the ability to take bigger guys out with him on the perimeter. He’s never stopped rebounding the ball. Him and Al Horford are difficult to contain on the interior.

“When I first came to the team, my relationship with Paul was just a normal teammate to teammate kind of thing,” said Gordon Hayward. “But once I started playing more, and me and Paul started talking more, I got to know him a lot better. We got a lot closer. I’ve always admired how hard he works.”

Millsap figures to be a hot commodity once July rolls around. And with the way he’s played the last two years, deservedly so.

“I just try to stay in the moment,” Millsap said. “We have a great team, and we have an opportunity to do some special things as a team this season. That’s all I’m focused on right now.”

***

No. 3: Reality bites the Wolves after 11th straight loss — You’re tempted to yell “tim-berrrrrrrr” at the Wolves, but that would suggest they’re falling from a high perch. The reality is the Wolves were never high to begin with, and right now this young and injured team is clearly struggling. Not only are they playing a batch of rookies and second-year players, they’re missing three starters and playing in the West. That’s a recipe for what you’re now seeing, nights when the Wolves are barely competitive. For the second time in five days, they lost to the Jazz, and Utah isn’t exactly a powerhouse. All of a sudden, coach Flip Saunders is talking possible lineup changes, but is there really any way to fix the Wolves this season? Eventually they’ll get Ricky Rubio, Nik Pekovic and Kevin Martin hack from injuries, so that’ll help a little. But probably not a lot, not in the deep and very dangerous West. Basically, this season is shaping up to be as expected, with Minnesota playing young players and giving them room and time to grow, while taking it on a chin hard enough to land another high lottery pick next June. It will be considered a successful year if these young players are more consistent by February and March and making fewer mistakes. Until then, there will be more nights like Saturday, when the Wolves, who have only won once since the day after Thanksgiving, giving up 15 rebounds to guys like Trevor Booker and a career high 13 points to guys like Rudy Gobert. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune explains:

Saunders vowed lineup changes and other corrective measures to help right a listing ship. It’s one that tilted even further toward the horizon Saturday. Saunders lamented his young team’s lack of energy and willingness to compete against a Utah team that, while also undermanned, has won six of nine games.

“Energy comes from within,” Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins said. “No one can tell you to play hard. You have to want to play hard.”

“They beat us on energy plays and they ripped in and took our hearts away,” Saunders said.

The Wolves also had no answer for Jazz point guard Trey Burke, who shook Friday’s 2-for-19 shooting performance (including 0-for-11 on three pointers) against the Hawks and scored a season-high 28 points.

“He’s be first team all-league if he played against us every time,” Saunders said of Burke. “Maybe I should’ve drafted him based on how he’s played against us and in this arena.”

“Like I told our guys, don’t think it can’t get any worse,” said Saunders. “It definitely can.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott wants Kobe Bryant to shoot more, not less … Kobe took a shot at the AAU system, but didn’t KD and CP3 and LeBron go through that very same system? … Knicks still contemplating whether to shelve Carmelo for the year  …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Jazz center Rudy Gobert made one of the best blocks of the season on Shabazz Muhammad…


VIDEO: Block of the night
 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo done for the season? | Curry, Dubs on fire | Hawks on top, new No. 1 in East

No. 1: Melo done for the season? — Carmelo Anthony’s season could be over. Finished before he or the New York Knicks could even get started basically. At 5-30 and staring at one of the worst seasons in franchise history, word has surfaced that a lingering knee injury could require surgery and that Melo could be potentially be done for the season. That’s brutal news for a Knicks team that has yet to acclimate  itself to coach Derek Fisher‘s system. But as Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News suggests, perhaps it’s time to do the right thing and shut ‘Melo down:

The Knicks fell again for the 10th straight time, serenaded by jeers, slaughtered this time by the lowly Pistons, 97-81. They demonstrated the sort of hopeless defensive performance that surely made Phil Jackson and Jim Dolan change the channel, wherever they happened to be watching.

But there was a difference Friday, an important one at the Garden. For the first time, really, Derek Fisher faced reality, sounded ready to shut down Carmelo Anthony and throw away this brutal 5-30 season once and for all. It’s not that Fisher was tanking, although that probably would be the best thing right now for the Knicks. It’s just that the coach admitted, finally, that there needs to be some discussions about long-term treatment of Anthony’s lingering injuries — about putting him on ice, along with his knee.

There is a growing feeling among people close to the Knicks that Anthony will require minor surgery on his joint after his season, whenever that ends. Fisher suggested there will likely be some good arguments made to Anthony soon about embarking on a sabbatical of some length. Eventually, Fisher implied, Anthony might see the light and accept a personal blackout.

“There’s a balance between a player and his health and the part that he plays in the decision-making process and then where we are as a team and giving our thoughts and our opinion to it,” Fisher said. “We can’t unilaterally just say, ‘Hey, you know, you can’t play for the rest of the season because of A, B and C.’ I think our medical staff, our training staff, continue to have conversations with him about where he is.”


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo returned to Boston in style and dazzled the old fans in the Dallas win

(more…)

James, Curry remain All-Star voting leaders

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King still reigns.

In the latest NBA All-Star balloting results, released this morning, Cleveland’s LeBron James remains the leading overall vote-getter. James, who had 552,967 in the initial voting results, has 775,810 votes in the second balloting totals.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was the leading Western Conference vote-getter in the first results, remains atop the Western Conference though just behind James in overall balloting, with 755,486 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015The top five players in each Conference remain unchanged in the second results. Kobe Bryant and Curry are the top guards in the Western Conference, with Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol the top three frontcourt players. Tim Duncan and James Harden are the two Western Conference players closest to moving into the starting five, with Duncan roughly 50,000 votes behind Marc Gasol, and Harden about 180,000 votes behind Kobe Bryant.

In the Eastern Conference, the only move among the starting five is a flip-flop between two starters. Chicago’s Pau Gasol, who was roughly 18,000 votes behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony in the first voting returns, has moved into second place among Eastern Conference forwards, with 372,109 votes to Anthony’s 365,449.

Chris Bosh is currently in fourth place among Eastern Conference forwards, about 70,000 votes behind Anthony for a starting spot.

John Wall and Dwyane Wade remain atop the Eastern Conference guards, with Kyrie Irving about 90,000 in third, about votes off the pace.

The biggest gainer overall is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who was eighth among Western guard in the first results, but has jumped to fifth in these second results, leapfrogging Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo. Lillard, however, remains about 550,000 votes behind Bryant for a starting guard position.

The team most under-represented in regard to their record is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-8, but their highest-ranked player in the second voting results is Paul Millsap, who is 13th among Eastern Conference forwards (34,751 votes).

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

Pelicans’ Davis, Team USA mates shine despite (or because of) summer work


VIDEO: See some of Anthony Davis’s 29 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Bulls in slow motion

Five months after Paul George’s gruesome leg fracture spiked the hand-wringing and hysteria over Team USA participation to new heights, a glimpse at most of teammates on that national squad suggests it might not have been so risky after all.

Player after player from gold-medal winning group in the 2014 FIBA World Cup is having the best season of his NBA career. Several have emerged as early candidates for 2014-15 Most Valuable Player consideration, and a number of them will be able to stage an informal reunion in New York in February at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game.

OK, the regular season is barely one-third over, so some of the overuse and burnout issues cited by critics of Team USA (and other national team involvement) might be lying in wait. But get a load of the benefits flowing so far to some key participants – and the teams for whom they work:

  • Houston’s James Harden is the NBA’s leading scorer with a career-high 27.2 points per game.
  • Stephen Curry’s 26.2 PER is his best, and the Golden State Warriors sit atop the league’s standings at 24-5.
  • Klay Thompson, Curry’s teammate, has been averaging 21.3 points and hitting 43.1 percent of his 3FGAs.
  • Denver’s Kenneth Faried posted 26 points and 25 rebounds against Minnesota Friday, after going for 20 and 14 against Brooklyn earlier in the week.
  • DeMarcus Cousins, around a 10-game bout with viral meningitis, put up some of the best number of his career, including 24.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg, a 28.6 PER and 112/102 offensive and defensive ratings.
  • Rudy Gay, Cousin’s teammate, has hit the reset button on his career with a personal-best 19.9 PER, a 54.8 true shooting percentage and a new three-year, $40 million contract extension.

And then there’s Anthony Davis, the man-ster from New Orleans, who unofficially has become known as The Player Most GMs Would Choose to Start a New Team. Davis is averaging 24.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.7 steals. He notched his fourth game of at least 20 points, 10 boards and five blocks Saturday in Chicago, and has 17 double-doubles, a 32.5 PER and a 61.6 true shooting percentage.

Pelicans head coach Monty Williams was an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s summer staff, so he was able to monitor Davis’ workload and preparation first-hand. His one scary moment? When Davis dived for a loose ball and went over the first row at United Center in Team USA’s tune-up vs. Brazil in August. Said Williams: “That’s when I wanted to talk to him, like, ‘Dude, tone it down a bit. We’ve got a season.’ ”

Otherwise, Williams firmly is in the camp of those who favor participation over trepidation.

“When Paul George went down, that argument kind of exacerbated it, I guess,” Williams said. “When one guy breaks his leg – and it was a bad injury – I think people wanted to look at all the negative aspects of playing in the summer. But I don’t see any.

“You can get hurt playing anywhere. Guys are going to play all summer long. If you check around the league, they play in L.A. at the Clippers’ practice site. They play in Houston, they play in Chicago. So why not play and practice with the best? And get coaching and travel and see the world and play for your country? Because like I say, guys are going to play regardless.”

Kevin Durant withdrew from Team USA not long after George’s injury. Kevin Love also declined as trade rumors swirled, his status too uncertain to mix in a possible injury, with the rumors themselves a possible distraction. San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have come back hurt or tired from their national team commitments, and Dallas owner Mark Cuban mostly has criticized the process for how much financial risk NBA teams bear for the IOC’s benefits.

But Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, also on the Team USA staff this summer, was eager to have Derrick Rose play – or put himself at risk, depending on your view – to shake off rust from a layoff of nearly two seasons. He is convinced participation in the program helped Rose in 2010 and didn’t worry about his franchise guy’s health, even though Rose had played just 10 games for Thibodeau from April 2012 through this summer.

“I thought, his MVP year, that summer helped him a lot,” Thibodeau said Saturday. “He came into camp in great shape. He hit the ground running. And it was a terrific year for him.

“There’s a great history with USA Basketball, when you look back at Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird, all of those guys. I think it’s important. It’s good for the game and it’s good for the players.”

It has been good for most of them this year, so far.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Check out the highlights from Saturday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks | KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West | Clippers’ bench earns its pine time | Pierce sees end of Gang Green

No. 1: Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks — Despite the tendency of Web sites everywhere to gaze into their crystal balls and predict the future – about half of all sports reporting and four-fifths of all stock market coverage is all about guessing what will maybe, perhaps, happen – sometimes the future doesn’t cooperate. Which is why injured Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio is tired of talking about it, even in the short term. As Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported from Oakland Saturday, Rubio’s return from a severely sprained ankle has become too much of a guessing game for the team’s absent playmaker:

He is back running and now refuses to prognosticate the date of his return.

“I wish,” Rubio said Saturday when asked if he knows when he will play again. “I’ve been saying it’s two weeks for the last month. I don’t want to say anymore dates. I’ve been saying in two weeks I think I’ll be ready and two weeks go by and I still can’t play and I get mad. I don’t want to get in a bad mood again. I’m not going to ask for a date again. I go as my body will let me do.”

For now, he can run and he did so with teammates for the first time at Friday’s morning shootaround in Denver, where he participated full-court running the team’s offense.

He can run, but stopping is another matter.

“I can’t cut and if I’m running and I have to stop right away, I have to take two, three extra steps,” Rubio said before the Wolves’ 110-97 loss to Golden State. “It’s not going to work in the game. I need more of that [5-on-0 work]. It felt good. I want to feel great before I go to some contact.”

Rubio will have another magnetic resonance imaging exam taken of his ankle after the team returns home from this current three-game road trip. Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Saturday he is hopeful Rubio can advance to contact play — the next step toward a game return — if the image comes back clean.

That didn’t stop some from fuzzying up their estimates and claiming a “mid-January” return for Rubio. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always the Magic 8 Ball.

***

No. 2: KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West — Losing by 25 points ought to be embarrassing enough, but no, the Brooklyn Nets had to find a way to add to their foolishness Saturday. Early in the game, before things turned truly sour for the Nets in front of a sellout Barclays Center crowd, veteran forward Kevin Garnett lifted a move from the Lance Stephenson playbook – though it had nothing to do with offense, defense or the basketball itself. Garnett blew in Indiana forward David West‘s face, much like Stephenson did when the former Pacer blew in LeBron James‘ ear during the Eastern Conference finals last spring. West didn’t appreciate it and picked up a technical foul for shoving Garnett away, but the silly stunt ultimately achieved nothing. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post reported on West’s version, while Garnett left the arena without talking to reporters:

“Yeah, I didn’t like that,” West said. “I didn’t like that. I just know it was too close, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to play those games. We are out there to play basketball, so let’s play basketball.

“Everyone’s kind of looking at me trying to figure out what made me push him. I told them he blew in my face … an aggressive blow at that.

“I think Lance’s was more sensual. That was an aggressive blow. I felt the, I don’t know what you call it … but it was just too much.”

While the Nets’ $12 million man was “blowing the game” in far too literal a fashion, their $19.8 million and $15.7 millon men – Deron Williams and Brook Lopez – were combining for just seven points off the bench and earning with underwhelming play the criticism that has come their way.

***

No. 3: Clippers’ bench earns its pine time — When a team’s bench can’t do its primary job – playing even or better when subbed in against the other team’s reserves – things can unravel fast. And that’s what happened to the Clippers when coach Doc Rivers went grasping for answers that weren’t there Saturday against the Toronto Raptors. As a result of poor play by L.A.’s second unit, Rivers’ starters wound up gasping for air. According to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, that had everything to do with Toronto’s game-grabbing 13-2 run in the fourth quarter:

Rivers acknowledged afterward that he should have taken his starters out earlier in the game to provide more flexibility in the fourth quarter.

Of course, it was easy to second-guess his decision not to mix and match starters and reserves late in the game the way things played out.

“The problem was, to keep them in the game we had to keep our starters in in the entire third quarter,” Rivers said. “Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered. Blake [Griffin] had already played 12 straight minutes. Do we play him 15 when he’s already tired?”

The Clippers continue to receive little production from their bench besides the scoring of Jamal Crawford and energy plays provided by Glen Davis. Center-forward Spencer Hawes remains sidelined because of a bone bruise in his left knee and point guard Jordan Farmar, the team’s other key off-season acquisition, has made an impact in only a few games.

Rivers said he needed to simplify the offense to help the second unit become more productive. Crawford scored 20 points Saturday, but the seven other reserves who played combined for only 13 points.

Davis said optimizing the way the team integrates the starters with the reserves could help solve some of the issues.

“Doc’s got to figure out the rotation and see what we can do to help our team, especially giving the big guys rest because they’re playing a lot of minutes,” Davis said. “But being on the second team, you’ve got to be ready, you can’t make a mistake. That’s just what it is. You’re in there for short minutes and you can’t make a mistake and it’s hard to play like that but you’ve got to do it because those are your minutes.”

***

No. 4: Pierce sees end of Gang GreenPaul Pierce and Kevin Garnett left more than a year ago, traded to Brooklyn prior to 2013-14. Ray Allen was gone before that, joining what at the time was the Boston Celtics’ arch rivals to chase a second ring in Miami. Coach Doc Rivers maneuvered his way to the West Coast. Now it’s Rajon Rondo who is gone from the Celtics’ parquet and Pierce couldn’t help but notice – and comment on what essentially was the end of a special era that began for them all in the summer of 2007. Here is some of what Boston Herald writer Steve Bulpett gathered Saturday in Washington, D.C., where Pierce makes his basketball home these days:

The timing of Rondo’s Dec. 18 trade to Dallas caught Pierce off-guard, but he knew this was a strong possibility once the Celts didn’t get in the running on Kevin Love and couldn’t find another impact player to pair with Rondo.

“I was a little bit surprised, especially because trade season starts close to All-Star or after All-Star break,” Pierce said. “Not a lot of trades happen in mid-December. You know, teams are trying to find their stride.

“But we had a chance to talk. We had our weekly mass text, and he understood the situation. The Celtics were either going to go in one direction, build around him, or continue with the youth movement. So I think Rondo understood it.

“I was shocked definitely, because I thought this was a year they were going to maybe this summer find some pieces to put around him. But he had a great run in Boston, and as long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters.”

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but even he had to move along when the club traded him to Brooklyn in 2013 to begin its rebuilding phase.

“That’s the way it is,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a long time before you see one player stay with one team for 15-plus years. You know, I think those days are pretty much gone, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement, players wanting to be in different places or play with their friends. It’s just a new era I think we’re living in.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ray Allen might be leaning toward retirement, rather than picking a contender to join in mid- or late season. … The list is long, but arguably the Detroit Pistons’ worst move in contributing to that team’s slide was the 2008 trade of veteran guard Chauncey Billups to Denver for an also-past-his-prime Allen Iverson. At least, former Piston Rodney Stuckey thinks so. … New Orleans’ Anthony Davis played his first NBA game in his hometown of Chicago and he dazzled with 29 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was his fourth 25-10-5 game of the season. … Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague looked all the way back from his recent hamstring injury and the Hawks avenged Friday’s 30-point loss to the Bucks by traveling to Milwaukee for payback.

LeBron, Curry lead initial All-Star voting

HANG TIME HQ — Two weeks after voting began for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, despite finding a new home in the offseason, the King remains on top.

The first results for the 2015 All-Star Game starting lineup voting were announced, and Cleveland’s LeBron James is the overall leading vote getter, with 552,967 overall votes. But right on James’ heels is Golden State’s Stephen Curry, voting leader in the Western Conference and second overall with 549,095 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015James, who finished as last season’s leading vote-getter while a member of the Miami Heat, is followed in the Eastern Conference by Washington’s John Wall with 299,209 overall votes. In the Western Conference, close behind Curry is New Orleans’ do-everything big man Anthony Davis, with 524,623 votes. If the voting holds, Curry, Wall and Davis would all be making just their second All-Star appearances.

Interestingly, the third place spot in each Conference is currently occupied by an All-Star veterans, Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant (521,542 votes), a 16-time All-Star, and Miami’s Dwyane Wade (265,917 votes), a 10-time All-Star.

Just several hundred votes behind Wade in the East is New York’s Carmelo Anthony, while Chicago’s Pau Gasol currently rounds out the East’s starting five. Out West, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol are are currently leading in the race to win the remaining starting spots.

Several starters from last season’s game are, at least initially, off the pace to make the starting lineup. Kevin Love started for the Western Conference last season, but since being traded to Cleveland over the summer, Love is fifth among frontcourt players in initial voting with 169,818 votes. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving started for the East last season and ended up winning the All-Star MVP award after going for 31 points and 14 assists. But in these first returns, Irving is third among Eastern Conference guards, behind Wall and Wade, with 237,356 overall votes.

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, also started for the West last season, but after missing 17 games due to a foot fracture, Durant is currently fifth in the West with 191,881 votes. His teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time All-Star who missed 14 games this season with a broken hand, is seventh among guards in the West with 84,686 votes.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.