Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Jennings’

Surprise: Dumars Fires Yet Another Coach


VIDEO: Cheeks is out at Detroit after only eight months

Mo Cheeks, the eighth coach to serve during Joe Dumars‘ run as president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, lasted eight months before, as multiple media outlets reported and the team eventually confirmed Sunday, getting the ax.

Dumars is in his 14th season, six years removed from Detroit’s last .500-or-better season. And the Pistons’ lone championship on Dumars’ watch (2004) came so long ago, Yao Ming, Latrell Sprewell and Seattle still were in the league and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and the Charlotte Bobcats weren’t.

That math no longer adds up.

In fact, with the clamor for advanced analytics to measure and dictate every motion and inclination of every player associated with an NBA team’s success or failure, the league is overdue for a concrete rating system for front-office executives. They’re the guys, after all, who are lauded or ripped by a new generation of sportswriter/analyst, depending on how avidly they embrace or eschew such calculations.

Or how ’bout this? A simple ceiling on the number of coaches a GM can hire or fire before it is his head on the chopping block.

Three would seem to be plenty, though four might be a reasonable number as well. If you spot the boss one for clearing the deck after he takes the job – the way Dumars did in 2001, replacing George Irvine with Rick Carlisle – two or three more ought to be enough, after which the scrutiny needs to shift from the sideline to the executive suite.

That would have only gotten Dumars to about the halfway mark in presiding over his personal coaches’ Boot Hill.

After Irvine and Carlisle, Dumars and the Pistons turned to Larry Brown, who did precisely what everyone expected him to do: he got Detroit to The Finals in his first season, steered its ensemble cast to the 2004 championship, then won another 54 games before his AWOL DNA kicked in and he was on the move.

Flip Saunders was brought in and did even better, in terms of victories, going 176-70 in three seasons. But he never had full control of the Pistons’ veteran-laden locker room – thanks, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton – though Saunders’ non-confrontational style was well-established before Dumars ever hired him. The core of that Detroit team was in decline, anyway, so when Saunders was dumped in 2008, so was its trips to the Eastern Conference finals and, for that matter, days sniffing air above .500.

Saunders at least holds the distinction of lasting longest under Dumars. After him, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank — and now Cheeks — have followed in rather rapid succession, each staying two years or less.

The Cheeks firing borders on Kim & Kris eye-blink brief, with the added touch that Pistons players apparently learned the news Sunday through media and fan postings on Twitter. Sure, they’re the ones allegedly responsible, underperforming at a 21-29 pace that most experts felt should have been flipped to 29-21 by now. But class is as class does, and while Dumars – always classy as a Hall of Fame player in Detroit – can’t be held responsible for every leak, it does add to the impression that there’s chaos and scapegoating going on in the Motor City.

The Pistons have been in or near the league’s bottom third both offensively and defensively. As of Sunday morning, they were ninth, out of the playoff picture, despite an East standings that from No. 3 down ought to be a land of opportunity. Detroit has been OK within its conference actually (18-14) but a 3-15 mark vs. the West has been killer, as was the Pistons’ 7-15 mark at home halfway through the schedule.

The inability to meld the work of big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, some reported rancor among the players over the rotation and the confrontation/aftermatch between the coach and guard Will Bynum – that’s all on Cheeks. The question, though, of whether 50 games was enough to decide his fate – after successive two-years-and-out terms of Frank and Kuester – was answered by Dumars and owner Tom Gores.

“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a team statement. “We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress.

“The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around. I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach.”

Pinpointing where that approach begins or ends, that’s the challenge. And that’s the area – made up top in jest but maybe a real void in need of filling – to be addressed. There’s got to be a more concrete way of capturing Dumars’ successes and failures.

The talent of which Gores spoke is largely of the individual variety; there’s no one even casually familiar with the NBA who didn’t stack up as many or more “cons” on the right side of Brandon Jennings‘ and Josh Smith‘s ledgers as “pros” on the left. It was, in a sense, a higher risk/reward gamble on “me first” guys than Dumars had perpetrated in 2009 when he splurged on free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to little positive effect.

The Pistons constantly tout their youth – their starting lineup ranks as the NBA’s most tender (23 years and change) – and the fact that their record is best among the league’s four youngest teams. But if that’s something to overcome in the short term, the W-L mark that the kids cobble together seems an odd thing to hold against Cheeks. He didn’t wave a wand and make them young.

More Dumars: Rodney Stuckey was going to be the Pistons’ future until he wasn’t, and only lately has done better in his new zero-expectations world. Then there was the Darko Milicic gaffe, a blown No. 2 pick in 2003 from which the franchise still hasn’t recovered. All while the No. 1 (LeBron James), 3 (Carmelo Anthony), 4 (Chris Bosh) and 5 (Dwyane Wade) picks will be at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

Gores’ arrival as owner apparently was a reset button for Dumars, because new bosses need basketball people they trust the same as chaotic, distracted owners (the previous Pistons regime). But eight coaches in 14 years and, with whoever takes over on the sideline now, six in eight seasons goes beyond fickle toward feeble.

Even if, in formulating an analytic to apply to the GMs, some allowance gets made for the length of the exec’s reign, Dumars would seem to have exceeded an acceptable average for pink slips. The next one he hands out, he needs to be standing in front of a mirror.

Or better yet, he needs to take over as coach himself and demonstrate that his GM/president knows what he’s doing.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 9



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul set to return Sunday | Grizzlies set record | Inconsistency plagues Heat | World Peace open to trade 

No. 1: Paul set to return Sunday — The Los Angeles Clippers battled through their last 18 games without All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who suffered from a separated right shoulder sustained on Jan. 3 at Dallas. The Clippers went 12-6 over the stretch to maintain their lead at the top of the Pacific Division. Thankfully for the Clippers, Paul appears ready to return today against the Philadelphia 76ers, as reported by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Chris Paul walked out to the Clippers’ practice court Saturday and stretched before he put on his practice jersey to get up some shots before practice started.

After practice was over, the team announced that Paul looked “great” in practice and that the All-Star guard would play Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers at Staples Center.

When the media met with Clippers Coach Doc Rivers before practice, he indicated there was a “50-50″ chance that Paul would play against the 76ers.

But all that changed once Paul went through some contact drills with his teammates.

Rivers did say Paul would play in the NBA All-Star game Feb. 16 in New Orleans.

With Paul having sat out about five weeks with his injury, there could be an adjustment period having him back on the court.

“I never thought I would hear that question, actually,” Blake Griffin said before practice. “But, yeah, it’s a great problem to add in the best playmaker, perhaps in the league, back to your team.”

Paul has said on many occasions that he wanted to play in the All-Star game.

By playing against the 76ers and against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, Paul will get in two regular-season games before the All-Star game.

“I like him playing in the All-Star game, personally,” Rivers said. “Whether he plays [Sunday] or plays the next game [Wednesday against Portland], I think this is a rare case where he’s ready to play and the All-Star game is probably the safest venue for him to play.”

Rivers said he thinks it’s going to take Paul “some time” to get adjusted to playing with his teammates again.

“I think it’s going to take Chris some time to get his rhythm back,” Rivers said. “So that’s why I’m hoping he is healthy and then we can play him Sunday, have a practice Tuesday and play him Wednesday. I think that’ll help. I think it’s going to take a couple of weeks for him to get his rhythm back. No doubt.”

***

No. 2: Grizzlies set record — The Memphis Grizzlies set an NBA record on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks that seems like it will be difficult for another team to challenge: they shot only one free throw … and still won! That set a record for fewest free throws ever attempted in a game, besting the Cleveland Cavaliers who won a game with just two free-throw attempts against the Golden State Warriors in 1994. Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal has the report:

“In the second half, the game got physical and that’s how we want to play,” Griz guard Courtney Lee said. “It played into our favor. We got active. We competed. We turned it up defensively.”

In snapping a two-game losing streak, Memphis (27-22) held Atlanta to a season-low in points. That’s notable given how difficult points were to come by. The Griz became the first team in NBA history to attempt one free throw in a game.

“Wow. Can I say wow?” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “Man, I should’ve shot that one.”

***

No. 3: Inconsistency plagues Heat — The Miami Heat have tried to improve their consistency over the last few weeks. At 35-14, they’ve fallen to 4.0 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Heat’s loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night certainly won’t help them catch the Pacers. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald reports:

There was a story in the local paper Friday suggesting that every victory by the Utah Jazz from here on out would actually be hurting the franchise.

That’s the team the Heat lost to 94-89 on Saturday, the maybe-it-should-just-tank Utah Jazz.

So, the inconsistency continues for the Heat this season despite coach Erik Spoelstra’s best effort to coax some sort of rhythm and consistency out of his lineup. Remember that winning streak that started after last year’s Super Bowl? Well, this year’s early February winning streak ended at three games.

“We figured it was going to be an ugly game,” Spoelstra said. “We just have to find a way when we’re not making shots the way we’re accustomed to. We never could get over that hump.”

“I thought we contested a lot of shots tonight, and they hit them like we weren’t even there,” Chris Bosh said.

Dwyane Wade missed a layup with 11 seconds left, and the Jazz began celebrating arguably its best victory of the season.

Streamers fell from the rafters at Energy Solutions Arena after the final buzzer. It was Utah’s first victory in five games.

LeBron James has turned in some masterful performances in Utah throughout his career, but the second game of this road trip was not one of them. James finished with just 13 points, going 4 of 13 from the field and 1 of 6 from three-point range. He settled too often for his jump shot, and that lack of energy permeated throughout the Heat’s lineup.

“We played well enough defensively to win the game,” James said. “Offensively, we didn’t shoot the ball well, like we are capable of doing. That is what it came down to.”

The Heat shot 43.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent (7 of 23) from three-point range. It was Miami’s worst shooting percentage since Jan. 10 when it shot 42.5 percent in a loss at Brooklyn.

***

No. 4: World Peace open to trade — Metta World Peace was ecstatic to join his hometown New York Knicks this summer. But it seems World Peace is now open to a trade after he has found himself on the bench since returning from a blood-spinning procedure on Jan. 24. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports:

After spending his career wanting to be traded to the Knicks, the defensive forward, who has been in and out of the rotation since December, wouldn’t mind being traded from the Knicks.

“He didn’t sign up for this,’’ one person close to him said.

When asked about whether he wanted to get dealt at the Feb. 20 deadline, World Peace said: “That’s up to my agent. I don’t worry about it. I’m optimistic about my future. … I’m not going to complain.’’

Another source said the possibility exists that [Mike] Woodson was unhappy with World Peace after a recent practice, in which World Peace spoke up about his playing time, making a wisecrack. World Peace is a constant clown in the locker room, but Woodson took exception.

Agent Marc Cornstein said he hasn’t gotten a firm reason why World Peace has seen limited time after the Knicks gave the rest of their mid-level exception in signing the Queenbridge product in July. He has been relegated to mostly garbage time since returning from his platelet-rich plasma procedure. World Peace played the final five minutes of garbage time Friday night in the Knicks’ 117-90 rout of the Nuggets.

“I haven’t been given an answer,’’ Cornstein said. “Usually, I’ll get an answer, not always the one I want to hear. But I don’t have an answer for you on this.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ricky Rubio scored a career-high 25 points. … Goran Dragic also set a career-high with 34 points. … Ricky Davis is attempting to return to the NBA through the Development League. … Chris Kaman on a potential trade: “I don’t care.” … Golden State Warriors willing to trade anyone but Stephen Curry or Andrew Bogut. … Kevin Martin of the Minnesota Timberwolves is out indefinitely with a broken thumb.

ICYMI of the Night: It seemed like every player on the Detroit Pistons was hot last night as they scored a season-high 126 points to defeat the Denver Nuggets. The leader of their temperature rise was Brandon Jennings, who scored a season-high 35 points to go along with 12 assists. If he keeps playing like this, he may live up to the contract he signed with the Pistons this summer.


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Brandon Jennings

Pistons Can’t Hit From Outside

The List

Lowest effective field goal percentage from outside the paint

Team FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Detroit 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
Charlotte 757 2,139 35.4% 52.7% 41.9%
Chicago 722 2,044 35.3% 52.7% 42.2%
Minnesota 728 2,144 34.0% 50.6% 42.5%
Philadelphia 633 1,866 33.9% 43.2% 42.9%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

Who would have thought that the worst jump-shooting team in the league would be the one starting Josh Smith at small forward?

The Pistons rank 29th in mid-range field goal percentage (34.8 percent) and dead last in 3-point percentage (30.6 percent). They’re the third worst 3-point shooting team of the last 10 years, ahead of only last season’s Timberwolves (30.5 percent) and the 2011-12 Bobcats (29.5 percent).

It doesn’t help that the Pistons start the erratic Brandon Jennings and the inexperienced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt. In fact, all 10 Pistons who have attempted at least 45 shots from outside the paint have shot them at a level below the league average.

But Smith is the main culprit, having taken 350 shots from outside the paint, with a brutal effective field goal percentage of 34.4 percent.

Pistons shooting from outside the paint

Player FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Brandon Jennings 139 420 33.1% 60.5% 42.9%
Josh Smith 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%
Rodney Stuckey 84 215 39.1% 48.2% 42.6%
K. Caldwell-Pope 67 211 31.8% 65.5% 41.7%
Kyle Singler 49 153 32.0% 49.8% 45.1%
Will Bynum 34 91 37.4% 44.4% 43.4%
Greg Monroe 25 84 29.8% 15.9% 29.8%
Gigi Datome 19 66 28.8% 82.5% 33.3%
Chauncey Billups 21 62 33.9% 82.7% 45.2%
Charlie Villanueva 12 45 26.7% 69.2% 36.7%
Others 34 94 36.2% 15.7% 47.9%
Total 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
League Avg. 793 2,111 37.6% 52.8% 46.2%

The issues of playing Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond together have been addressed in this space before. Of late, the defense hasn’t been as bad as it was earlier in the season, and coach Mo Cheeks isn’t playing the three bigs together as much, but the Pistons still struggle to score with them all on the floor together.

Pistons efficiency with Smith, Monroe and Drummond on the floor

Months GP MIN MIN/G OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Oct.-November 16 300 18.8 100.2 106.7 -6.5 -29
December 17 331 19.5 102.0 111.7 -9.7 -50
Jan.- February 14 203 14.5 101.3 105.3 -4.0 -21
Total 47 834 17.7 101.2 108.3 -7.1 -100

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

So it seems clear that, with the trade deadline now only 15 days away, the Pistons should think hard about shaking things up. Reportedly, they’d prefer to move Smith, who’s in the first year of a four-year, $54 million deal. Obviously, they’d have an easier time finding a taker for Monroe, who’s in the last year of his rookie contract.

Any team trading for Smith would obviously do so with the intent of playing him (primarily) at power forward. But moving Smith to the four on a permanent basis (with the Pistons or some other team) isn’t necessarily going to keep him from shooting jumpers.

Smith has played 834 minutes with Monroe and Drummond. He’s played 97 minutes with *other combinations where you could say he’s the small forward. And he’s played 717 minutes at the four.

* Combinations of Monroe, Drummond, Josh Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.

And in those 717 minutes, Smith has attempted about the same percentage of his shots from outside the paint as he has when he’s played the three.

Josh Smith shooting from outside the paint

Position FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
At SF 48 193 24.9% 49.5% 30.8%
At PF 53 157 33.8% 48.9% 38.9%
Total 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%

In fact, in two of his last three seasons in Atlanta, Smith attempted more than half of his shots from outside the paint. When Smith was with the Hawks, a coaching change seemed to make the difference. In six seasons under Mike Woodson, Smith took only 37 percent of his shots from outside the paint. In three seasons under Larry Drew, he took 49 percent of his shots from outside the paint.

That’s the same rate as this season. The problem is that Smith’s shooting — both inside the paint and outside it — has been much worse than it was in his last few seasons in Atlanta. His defense has also regressed.

That all goes beyond what position he’s playing. The Pistons can improve their perimeter shooting by acquiring a small forward who can actually shoot, but (unless they somehow find a taker for that contract) they still need Smith to play better.

The Video

Here are Smith’s 20 shots in Miami on Monday, when he shot 4-for-4 in the restricted area and 1-for-16 outside it.

On the other hand, Smith had one of his best shooting games of the season a couple of weeks ago against the Clippers. He shot 6-for-8 from mid-range. Here are those eight shots, which aren’t exactly more pleasing to watch (he banked the first one in).

The bottom of the list

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Golden State Warriors are the best jump-shooting team in the league, with an effective field goal percentage of 49.5 percent from outside the paint. What is a surprise is that Andre Iguodala has been nearly as good a jump-shooter (55.1 percent) as Stephen Curry (55.6 percent).

Next best are the Heat (49.4 percent), followed by the Hawks (49.4 percent), Spurs (49.2 percent) and Mavericks (49.2 percent).

Trivia question

Of the 166 players who have attempted at least 100 shots both in the paint and outside the paint, only one has shot better (we’re talking standard field goal percentage, here) from outside than inside. Who is he?

More jump-shooting notes

  • Smith isn’t the worst jump-shooter in the league. Of 223 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from outside the paint, Tyreke Evans has the lowest outside-the-paint effective field goal percentage at 25.2 percent. If you’ve ever watched Evans take one of his lazy-looking jumpers, you shouldn’t be surprised.
  • It should also be no surprise that Kyle Korver is at the top of the list, with an effective field goal percentage of 64.2 percent from outside the paint. No. 2 is Anthony Tolliver (62.9 percent).
  • Smith ranks 216th on the list, and no one below him has taken anything near 350 shots from outside the paint.
  • East teams have an effective field goal percentage of 45.4 percent from outside the paint. West teams: 47.1 percent.
  • Eight of the 10 teams with an effective field goal percentage of less than 45 percent from outside the paint also rank 20th or worse in offensive efficiency. The exceptions are Memphis (18th in offensive efficiency) and Minnesota (ninth). While they don’t shoot very well, the Wolves rank in the top 10 in offensive rebounding rate, turnover rate, and free throw rate.

Trivia answer

Damian Lillard has shot 41.2 percent in the paint and 42.4 percent outside the paint. On the opposite side of the spectrum is teammate Nicolas Batum, who has the biggest discrepancy between paint field goal percentage (71.7 percent) and outside-the-paint field goal percentage (36.3 percent).

Air Check: The King And Pop

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Efficiency is in the eye of the beholder

After a timeout during the Pistons-Wizards match Saturday, the Washington broadcast came back with Steve Buckhantz saying “Two of the most efficient players in the NBA are playing here tonight.”

At that point, your mind races. Andre Drummond and Martell Webster? Both are near the top of the league in effective field goal percentage.

No, Buckhantz was talking about a couple of other guys…


VIDEO: Wizards’ broadcaster Steve Buckhantz has high praise for John Wall and Brandon Jennings

So, Buckhantz called John Wall and Brandon Jennings “two of the most efficient players in the league” because they ranked second and third in games with at least 10 assists and less than four turnovers. That’s an interesting definition of efficiency.

At the time, Wall and Jennings ranked 203rd and 229th in effective field goal percentage among 247 players who had attempted at least 150 shots from the field. Their true shooting percentage ranks among the same group were slightly better: 152nd and 222nd.

Oh, if you want to go back to assists and turnovers, Jennings and Wall ranked 18th and 29th in assist/turnover ratio among qualified players.

So yeah, that stat that the Wizards showed – in which Chris Paul was lapping the field, by the way – could have used some context. And to top it off, Wall threw the ball out of bounds on the first possession after they showed it.

The King of Air Check returns

If you’ve been reading Air Check for the last couple of years, you’re familiar with the shots Scott Hastings takes at the officials. If you haven’t, see some examples here, here and here.

Let’s add this one to the list…


VIDEO: Scott Hastings demonstrates why he is the best

“I’m telling you,” Hastings says after Evan Fournier gets a bucket, “in a year or two, if he doesn’t get that call as an and-one, then officiating is as bad as I thought.”

That’s why he’s the King.

The fear of Pop

You’ve certainly seen Jeff Van Gundy‘s between-quarters “interview” with Gregg Popovich from a couple of weeks ago, probably the best broadcasting moment of the season…


VIDEO: Jeff Van Gundy and Gregg Popovich share a special moment

A week later, the Spurs were on ESPN again. And again, there was no sideline reporter. So play-by-play man Dave Pasch and analyst Jon Barry flipped a coin to see who had to do the interview. Pasch lost and got the standard Popovich treatment…


VIDEO: Dave Pasch loses coin toss and interviews Popovich

Cheeks Wants Jennings To Step Up On ‘D’


VIDEO: Detroit at New Orleans, Dec. 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Jennings filled up the hoop with 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt out four assists.

As usual, that wasn’t the issue.

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings (Dan Lippitt/NBAE)

On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio ransacked The Palace by doing almost anything he pleased. Barely 24 hours later it was Jrue Holiday along with Tyreke Evans (on a tender ankle) who took apart the Pistons with dribble penetration.

There is room for all of the routine excuses — the Pistons are the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have so many different new parts still learning about each other and how to play together. But Wednesday night they played a Pelicans team that was without its best player in Anthony Davis and overcoming a horrid 6-for-18 shooting night from Ryan Anderson – and they still found a way to get past Detroit.

Mostly that way was straight down the middle.

A Pistons team that should have a stifling front line of the sizable Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has a defense that is ranked 19th in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

It’s enough to make Detroit fans long for the days of the Bad Boys and a couple of good forearm shivers.

That’s why coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for his point guard, Jennings, to take on his share of the defensive burden.

When he was asked whether he might “hide” Jennings in a run of three straight games against high powered point guards Holiday, Deron Williams (Nets) and Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) by switching the assignment to rookie Kentavious Pope-Caldwell, Cheeks threw down the gauntlet.

“Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” Cheeks said of the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good.”

Since he popped in 55 points as a rookie with the Bucks, Jennings has been all about his offensive ability. But in a league where point guard skill is more abundant than ever, if Jennings is going to get back into the headlines and crack the upper echelon, he’ll have to stop relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes and lack of commitment on defense.

Cheeks, who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders during his 15-year NBA career, wants his point guard to take the challenge personally.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. “You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players. You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

Pistons’ Sluggish Start Prompts Change




VIDEO: Josh Smith’s early season highlights with the Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A blockbuster free-agent/trade summer doesn’t always deliver the desired results come the start of the regular season, at least not immediately.

The Detroit Pistons are living that reality after just seven games. Pistons coach Mo Cheeks benched veterans Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith at the start of the second half of Tuesday night’s rout at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, inserting youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler in their places, respectively.

This season was supposed to mark a shift in fortunes for the Pistons, an escape from the grips of the lottery and a move back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. The summer additions of Billups, Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings was the masterstroke that was going to jumpstart that process.

But so far … it’s just not happening. The Pistons are 2-5 and showing no signs of being the playoff outfit some of us assumed they would be. In addition to chemistry issues that need to be sorted out, they’re also the worst defensive team in the league.

Losers of four straight games, Cheeks is rightfully trying to get out ahead of what could be a bigger problem. If his intent was to light a fire under his veterans, mission accomplished. If it was to point out to veterans and youngsters alike that no one is safe from being removed from their spot in the starting lineup or rotation, no matter how big a name or reputation they have, then he should be commended for taking that sort of stance this early in the campaign.

Cheeks said he wasn’t trying to send a message by singling Smith and Billups out, but did offer up specifics for Smith to shake out of his mini-funk, telling Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:

“He has to get involved in the offense, get some offensive rebounds, run the floor, get some post-ups,” Cheeks said of Smith. “Get your hands on the ball and things will change for you.”

To his credit, Smith handled it like a pro, something that his critics probably didn’t expect given his history of clashing with authority during his formative stages in the league. Instead, he put the onus back on the leaders in the locker room and pointed out their lack of focus and attention to detail on the defensive end:

“Just gotta cheer my teammates on. You can’t focus on decisions people make, higher than you. You have to adjust around it and as long as I’ve been in this league, that’s what I’ve been willing to do — learning to adjust.”

With investment the Pistons have made in Smith, knowing that they have to make decisions on the long-term futures of young bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, everyone needs to maintain the proper perspective on things during the start.

Smith is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks so far this season. He’s been a factor. The Pistons, however, need him to be a force. They need him to lead the way in the frontcourt. They need his play, his all around abilities and particularly his penchant for facilitating from the point-forward position, to bolster the production up front.

With Jennings returning from injury, Smith was bound to lose some of that freedom he enjoyed in the first few games of the season. So ultimately, it’s up to Cheeks to make sure all of the pieces fit and the Pistons don’t lose any more ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

So if a change is needed after this sluggish start, even a minor one at halftime of a road game in mid-November, so be it. Better to fix it now than have to worry about it later.

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rivers sets goals for Clippers | Rondo’s return getting closer? | Pistons’ Jennings healing up fast | Report: Suns, Bledsoe talking extension

No. 1: Rivers wants Clippers to pull togetherThe addition of Doc Rivers to the Clippers’ bench as their new coach was widely seen as one of the biggest moves of the NBA’s offseason. No doubt, the Clippers are counting on Rivers’ history of deep playoff runs with the Boston Celtics to translate to L.A. and take a crew known mostly for regular-season highlights further in the postseason. USA Today‘s David Leon Moore caught up with Rivers and the rest of the Clippers and found the the new coach is embracing the high expectations and hopes for a playoff run that are present in Clipperland:

The hype is loud for a team with two perennial All-Stars — point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin — along with a title-winning coach and a deep and talented roster.

Rivers and the Clippers aren’t backing away from it.

“I always thought I’d rather be with a group with high expectations,” the 52-year-old coach says. “Are we ready for that? I don’t know yet. That’s what this journey will be about. I think we are. I think we have a chance to do something. That excites me. If we can look at what’s on paper and get that on the floor and keep it healthy, I think we can be a special team. That excites me.”

What needs to be changed from Del Negro’s regime?

Rivers wants to shore up the transition defense, guard the three-point line better and turn underachieving 6-11 center DeAndre Jordan into a candidate for defensive player of the year.

But there is a bigger goal, Rivers says. “Become a team,” he says. “I was a player. I was in locker rooms, and I understand that part of it. I know how important the locker room is. That’s something we need to improve here — our locker room.

“We just need to grow as a group. We have to embrace ‘heart’ all the time. That’s an area we need to be strongest in. Instead of splintering when things go wrong, we need to pull together.”

***

No. 2: Rondo may be in contact drills soon — Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo last played in an NBA game on Jan. 25, 2013 against the Hawks. It was in that game that Rondo injured his knee and shortly thereafter, had a torn ACL and was done for the season. Rondo has been rehabbing steadily since his surgery and might be ready for the next step in process to return to the court, writes Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:

Rajon Rondo watched last night’s 107-97 Celtics exhibition win over a Brooklyn scrub team with the same calm the rehabbing point guard has brought to every other game this fall.

That’s because while Rondo won’t get specific about a timetable, he acknowledged last night that the next step in his recovery from ACL surgery — contact — may not be far off.

“I’m getting fitted for my first brace, and I don’t think contact will be too far from there,” the Celtics point guard said. “I just have to get cleared by my doctors. I know it’s getting stronger each week. When I’m able to jump off my right leg and dunk, that’s probably when I’ll be ready to play.

“Feeling great, working out every day. I’m doing more as far as compound workouts. I’m doing one workout a day, so I’m doing more as far as working on my leg. It’s getting better each day.”

***

No. 3: Jennings healing up, expects to return to Pistons soon — Detroit’s new starting point guard, Brandon Jennings, had surgery to repair an issue with his wisdom teeth a few weeks ago. He’s understandably been mostly quiet since the procedure, but the Pistons are thinking he’ll be ready to go by early next month, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:

Brandon Jennings hasn’t had much to say — it’s tough to talk when your mouth is immobilized.

That’s what the Pistons’ public relations staff has reminded media members who have requested to interview Jennings, who returned to the practice facility this week after a brief absence because of an impacted wisdom tooth and hairline fracture of the jaw.

He hasn’t returned to full practices yet, but his light work and good spirits appear to be good signs that he will be able to return quickly when he is re-evaluated in two weeks. Jennings might play by Nov. 5 against Indiana.

“He’s been a part of everything with the exception of running,” coach Maurice Cheeks said Wednesday. “He’s able to watch film, being on the practice floor, he has been a part of it. Whenever he gets his situation taken care of, we will put him in there and see what he’s got.”

Jennings wore a protective mask Wednesday while taking shots, but it’s still to be determined if he will wear it when he returns.

***

No. 4: Report: Suns, Bledsoe talking extension — The Suns wrapped up their preseason schedule last night with a victory against the Nuggets that was paced by point guard Eric Bledsoe‘s 21-point effort. Bledsoe finished the preseason as Phoenix’s leading scorer (just 13.0 ppg, but that’ll likely be higher during the season) and has had a pretty smooth transition from Chris Paul‘s backup with the Clippers to his new role as a go-to guy with the Suns. As such, writes Andrew Gilstrap of ArizonaSports.com, the Suns and Bledsoe are trying to hammer out a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline:

The Phoenix Suns are currently in talks with newly acquired guard Eric Bledsoe on a long-term contract extension. If the two sides can’t reach a deal by the end of the month, the 23-year-old combo guard would become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

The Suns are in an interesting spot because they’ve only seen the Kentucky product in training camp and a few preseason games, and it’s still uncertain that he will become the star many project him to be.

Nonetheless, general manager Ryan McDonough, while on Arizona Sports 620’s Burns & Gambo show Wednesday, agreed that Bledsoe does figure into the team’s long-term plans. McDonough said contract talks with the fourth-year player have gone “pretty well” to this point.

“If we’re not able to work out a deal (by Oct. 31), we would start next summer with Eric as a restricted free agent, but obviously we’re hoping to get something done before that,” the general manager said.

“With Eric, there’s more projection. Some would say there’s more risk, but I’d also counter that there’s more upside,” McDonough, 33, said. “He does some unique things athletically. I think he’s the best shot-blocking guard in the league. If he plays extended minutes, which he will for us, I think he might lead the league in steals. He has a unique potential.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In his farewell Board of Governors dinner, David Stern was immortalized in bobblehead form. Where can we get one of those? … The Jazz are reportedly bringing veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley back into the fold … The Nets, understandably, are expecting big things from Deron Williams this season …

ICYMI Of The Night: Jazz rookies can’t seem to get a break. Yesterday, we had rookie Justin Holiday getting his welcome-to-the-NBA moment (from Xavier Henry of the Lakers). Today, we’ve got Rudy Gobert getting his welcome thanks to Blake Griffin of the Clippers … 

One Team, One Stat: Sanders Asked To Defend The Basket Too Much

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 Milwaukee Bucks, a team that underwent some changes this summer.

The basics
MIL Rank
W-L 38-44 18
Pace 97.3 3
OffRtg 100.9 21
DefRtg 102.3 12
NetRtg -1.4 18

The stat

37.9 percent - Percentage of shots taken from the restricted area by Bucks opponents, the highest rate in the league.

The context

That’s bad, because restricted area shots are the best on the floor, worth 1.21 points per shot last season. With Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings leading the team in minutes, the Bucks’ perimeter defense was pretty porous. In fact, when Ellis and Jennings were on the floor together, almost 41 percent of opponent shots came from the restricted area.

But the Bucks had Larry Sanders, and allowed their opponents to shoot only 58.3 percent on those restricted-area shots. That’s still 1.17 points per shot, but was the seventh-lowest rate in the league.

In general, the teams that allowed a lot of shots near the basket didn’t defend those shots particularly well and ranked near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency. The Bucks were the exception.

Highest percentage of opponent shots from restricted area

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA DefRtg Rank
Milwaukee 1,536 2,634 58.3% 7 37.9% 102.3 12
New Orleans 1,428 2,339 61.1% 17 36.3% 107.6 28
Portland 1,530 2,470 61.9% 22 36.3% 106.9 26
Charlotte 1,488 2,449 60.8% 16 36.2% 108.9 30
Phoenix 1,426 2,332 61.1% 18 34.4% 105.7 24
League average 60.6% 32.8% 103.1

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

With Sanders on the floor, Bucks opponents shot just 54.2 percent in the restricted area and Milwaukee allowed just 98.8 points per 100 possessions. That number was 101.5 — the level of a top 10 defense — in 1,445 minutes with Ellis, Jennings and Sanders all on the floor together.

Here’s some clips from a Nov. 30 game in Minnesota in which Sanders blocked 10 shots and contested a few more, with the Wolves shooting a miserable 11-for-32 in the restricted area

 


 

The one thing that the Bucks didn’t do well defensively is rebound. They ranked 28th in defensive rebounding percentage at 71.3 percent, and that number wasn’t much better — 71.9 percent — with Sanders on the floor. If he’s trying to block shots, he’s taking himself out of rebounding position.

Still, if Sanders plays more than the 27.3 minutes per game he averaged last season (which will require him to foul less), the Bucks have a shot at fielding a top 10 defense and remaining in playoff contention. They will certainly miss Luc Mbah a Moute on that end, but think about it: they ranked 12th defensively last season with 2,295 minutes of Ellis and Jennings on the floor together. That’s pretty amazing.

And from the numbers, it’s clear that Jennings was the bigger problem defensively…

Bucks efficiency, 2012-13

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Ellis + Jennings 2,295 101.5 104.3 -2.7 -151
Ellis only *781 104.5 98.0 +6.6 +107
Jennings only **601 94.6 105.5 -10.9 -138
Neither 279 99.0 91.3 +7.8 +59

*Sanders was on the floor for 249 (32 percent) of these minutes
** Sanders was on the floor for 173 (29 percent) of these minutes

If Brandon Knight can do a better job of keeping guys in front of him than Jennings did, fewer of those opponent shots will come from the restricted area and less will be asked of Sanders. And that’s a good thing.

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

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will looking better | Rose has planned absence from practice | Love ready to new season | Suns’ Frye happy to play again | Cheeks has big plans in Detroit

No. 1: D-Will out of walking boot — After suffering a right ankle injury during his offseason workout in Utah, Nets star Deron Williams was put in a walking boot to help stabilize the injury. But he’s apparently mended nicely since then and will be OK for all of training camp, writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com: 

“My ankle’s doing better,” Williams said at the team’s media day availability at Barclays Center. “The main thing right now is I could probably go out there and do everything. But if I tweak my ankle or have a setback, then that wouldn’t be good. So right now we’re just gonna take it slow and see how things go.”

Williams, 29, is coming off an injury-plagued 2012-13 season. He played in 78 games despite being bothered by ankle inflammation and weight problems for the majority of the season.

“Personally, I just want to get better overall,” Williams said. “The last couple years have not been my greatest, so I just want to get back to the way I’m playing and get my confidence back to the way it should to be.”

Williams struggled last season up until the All-Star break, when he received a third set of cortisone shots in both ankles. During that week, Williams also received platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment and did a three-day juice cleanse.

***

No. 2: Rose misses scrimmage in ‘planned’ absenceBefore all of Chicago and the rest of the NBA world panics over the news that Derrick Rose missed part of practice with the Bulls, keep in mind this is all part of the plan to keep Rose healthy for the entire season and beyond, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Derrick Rose sat out the scrimmaging portion of Monday’s practice as part of “planned rest.”

“He did some, the warmup phase,” Thibodeau said. “And we went shorter (Monday). We had a teaching segment that of course he participated in and the warmup phase. But the live stuff, we were planning on giving him (Monday) off.”

Rose, who sat out all last season after left knee surgery, had said he didn’t want to miss any practice time or preseason games if the decision was left to him. By all accounts, Rose has looked dominant thus far in practice.

…”We said we’d take it step-by-step,” Thibodeau said. “He has practiced very well. The next step is to see where he is in a game. We’re trying to get it as close to a gamelike condition as we can. He has handled that part. But there’s nothing like a game.

“The preseason games will be the next step. And of course there’s a different level when we get to the regular season. But he has prepared himself well.”

***

No. 3: Love not interested in rehashing last seasonPlaying in just 18 games last season due to various injuries, Kevin Love put up Love-like stats (18.3 ppg, 14.0 rpg), but his overall absence clearly hampered the Wolves (who had plenty of other injury issues aside from Love). As Media Day unfolded Monday, Love was in no way interested in talking about what went wrong in Minnesota last season, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune:

Timberwolves forward Kevin Love reported for duty with his surgically repaired knee and hand reportedly all healed and his body lean.

He also made one thing abundantly clear: The past is in the…well, you know.

“Last year is last year,” the two-time All-Star forward, uttering a line he used repeatedly during a 12-minute session with reporters at the team’s annual media day.

He made it clear he has little interest in discussing a lost season in which he played just 18 games after breaking his shooting hand not once but twice.

Love also wasn’t much interested in discussing his relationship with former President of Basketball of Operations David Kahn, who was replaced by Flip Saunders last May.

“The past is the past and it’s great to have Flip on board,” Love said. “We’ve had great talks. … We all know what happened last year, and we just want to move forward and take care of unfinished business.”

Love looked like he’s in the best shape of his career, even though he said he doesn’t know exactly how much weight he lost from last season.

***

No. 4: Frye always confident he’d return — During a two-season span stretching from 2010-11 to 2011-12, no center in the league hit more 3-pointers than the Suns specialist, Channing Frye. As a key part of a contending team in Phoenix, Frye nailed 172 and 171 3-pointers, respectively, and, for good measure, made 91 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. But an enlarged heart kept Frye on the sidelines last season, but he tells ProBasketballTalk.com’s Brett Pollakoff he never doubted he’d return to the NBA again:

“My heart had a cold for a year, it went away,” he said. “So now I’m better.”

Frye is expected to be a full participant in training camp, with no restrictions. He was emphatic when asked if he needed to be on any medication.

“None. No way. I’m all healthy,” was Frye’s response.

Frye didn’t have to return to the NBA, obviously. Not only has he amassed more than $28 million in career earnings with two more guaranteed contract years ahead of him, but he reminded us that with his education, he could easily go do something else.

“I could be a teacher if I want to,” Frye said. “I’ve got my degree now.”

But he doesn’t have to pursue other options just yet. When asked about his choice to come back, Frye pointed to the motivation of overcoming his illness, along with a feeling inside that told him he still had something left to give to the game he loves.

“I just felt like I was never done,” Frye said. “Even when things didn’t look good, I just felt like I wasn’t done yet. And I was determined to approach this like I approach everything else.

“I wasn’t always the best, I wasn’t always the strongest or the tallest or the fastest. I just want to play ball, you know? It’s what I’m supposed to do, and I never felt like I was done.”

***

No. 5: Cheeks expecting a lot from Jennings, Drummond The Pistons were one of the most active teams in the offseason and their addition of Brandon Jennings via a sign-and-trade deal with the Bucks was one of their more marquee moves. In addition, changing coaches from Lawrence Frank to Maurice Cheeks was another shake-up that was done in hopes of ending Detroit’s playoff drought. Cheeks has made it abundantly clear to Jennings and young big man Andre Drummond that he’s hoping for big things from them this season, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:

New Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks mentioned he talked with Jennings on Monday about the expectations for the young point guard.

Cheeks was asked what he said, but he deferred and said he was more curious to hear Jennings’ recollection of the conversation.

“Everything was just straightforward,” Jennings said. “He said the team goes as far as I go. He’s looking for a guy who can come in here with a positive attitude every day and a guy that’s not too high and not too low, but in the middle.

“He said he is going to be on me every day, and he’s going to put a lot of pressure on me.”

One of the things that angered fans last season was former coach Lawrence Frank’s limiting of rookie center Andre Drummond’s minutes.

Cheeks said he isn’t looking to limit Drummond and expects big things in his second season.

“I’m going to put him out on the floor for sure,” Cheeks said. “I’m not looking not to play him, I’m looking to play him. He’s going to be out on the floor. There’s no other way to say it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Gordon clears the air in New Orleans about his dedication to the PelicansO.J. Mayo is glad to be with the Bucks for a while … Jazz support coachTyrone Corbin , but won’t talk extension yet … Coach Kevin McHale not sweating who will be the leader of the Rockets

ICYMI of the night: The last of the Media Days happened on Monday, so as we wait for practices to get rolling league-wide, here are good interview with some of the movers and shakers in the Eastern and Western Conferences:

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Ferry: Hawks Still In Thick Of Things In Crowded Eastern Conference Race





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With a busy offseason behind him and a what promises to be an arduous 2013-14 NBA season ahead of him, it wasn’t surprising to see Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry sporting a scruffy summer beard Thursday afternoon at Philips Arena.

Like every other shot-caller in the Eastern Conference, Ferry has to find a way to stay in the mix in the playoff chase behind the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, while also maintaining the roster and financial flexibility he worked so hard to achieve when he took over day-to-day operations of the Hawks’ basketball operation prior to the 2012 Draft.

That job is tougher now than it was this time a year ago, what with all of the jostling for position in the East. The teams at the bottom are inching closer to the middle, while some of the teams that were considered contenders have fallen off the pace a bit. The middle class remains muddled. And Ferry believes the Hawks are still very much in the thick of the crowded East after a roster rebuild in the offseason.

“I think we have to get through the beginning of the year to get a feel from our group, but we’re not just putting together new players. We have an entirely new coaching staff that is working together. That being said, the guys will work hard and compete. And we have smart coaches and they’ll put guys in positions to succeed. I expect us to be competitive. What that means as it relates to wins, losses and so on … I don’t know. The East is better, first of all. You can go through the teams and see the East has gotten more competitive, which I like.”

The Hawks have had near-wholesale changes to their basketball operation since Ferry came on board. Mike Budenholzer was hired to replace Larry Drew this summer and that was before Ferry turned the roster over for the second straight summer, the most notable move this time being the parting of the ways with Josh Smith (Detroit via free agency). Ferry traded away both Joe Johnson (Brooklyn) and Marvin Williams (Utah) in his first couple of months on the job.

Only Al Horford and Jeff Teague remain from the previous regime.

And there is that crowded East race Ferry spoke of that is sure to factor into the situation.

“Charlotte’s a better team, their coach is going to do a better job, I have a lot of respect for him, and they have added more talent. Detroit with [Brandon] Jennings and Josh [Smith], that’s a better group. They’re going to be more competitive. Milwaukee will be good. Larry [Drew] will do a nice job there. That being said, I like where we are right now. We have options going forward to continue to get better. But we have a group of guys that are going to compete. We have to continue to make good decisions, and from there I think we’ll be competitive because of the nature and the spirit of our guys.”

With Derrick Rose returning from injury in Chicago, Brooklyn’s new-look roster, the anticipated rise of younger groups in Washington, Cleveland, Toronto and Orlando, Ferry is well aware that the landscape has changed dramatically from last season to this one.

There is undoubtedly more depth in the Eastern Conference, maybe not as much as there in the Western Conference, and that means the Hawks will have to scrap and claw their way into the playoffs for a seventh straight season.

“I do think the West, having been there, they beat themselves up more getting there [to The Finals] than Miami has had to,” he said before running down the list of improved teams that will factor into the Eastern Conference race this season.  “You look at the East and the challenge is there, and if we’re going to be a team that competes and gets better every day, we’ll be there.”

Ferry mentioned guys like Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and the consistent level of play they bring to the floor every night as staples for a revamped Hawks team that will conform to a system rather than freelance the way they might have in years past.  In addition to the core members of this new team having the sort of leadership qualities that have historically been critical to a team’s success, Ferry also suggested the Hawks will field a no-nonsense, blue-collar team fans in Atlanta will support vigorously as opposed to tolerating them the way many had grown accustomed before Ferry’s arrival.

Drafting well and having a sound player development program in place are other areas Ferry has focused on since taking over, upgrades and improvements that fans and the media either won’t see or simply don’t have access to.

Ferry’s focus is on the Hawks’ overall program as much as it is on putting a competitive team on the floor night after night this season. They go hand-in-hand, a factor that changes the way a team operates if that hasn’t been committed in that way before.

“I think we’re in a position where we have started to build on the values we want to work as a team,” Ferry said. “I think we have professional guys that will compete every night, and pretty good characters guys as well. With that, we want to keep flexibility as strategic option for us right now with where we are as a team. With where we are lined up, with contracts and the future we have the opportunity to still take different paths. I think we have a value system that is going to guide us along that way. But we still have the option to make changes and do things going forward that allow us to continue to build and to continue to try to get better.”