Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Knight’

Blogtable: Eye-opener out of the gate

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Give me a lesser-known player who is opening your eyes. What do you like about him?

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLooks like I was wrong about Chicago’s Jimmy Butler – again. I didn’t share the Chicago Bulls’ high hopes for Butler when they drafted him No. 30 in 2011; “short arms, flat shot, plays too straight-up-and-down” was my initial impression. And I didn’t agree with Butler’s decision not to nail down a contract extension by the Oct. 31 deadline (too much risk to eke out another 10 percent raise or so on the $40 million or so the Bulls offered). But Butler’s do-everything impact for Chicago, combining Luol Deng‘s and Derrick Rose‘s responsibilities on many nights, has him in line for a much bigger payday. And his offensive game has grown (21.3 ppg, 13th in true shooting percentage, 17th in PER). But I don’t mind being wrong – when Marquette University’s annual pledge drive calls next year, I can point them in yet another direction of fellow alums (Doc Rivers, Dwyane Wade, Wesley Matthews) who have all the money.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a season when every inhale, exhale and twinge from Derrick Rose is worthy of re-tweets and headlines, Jimmy Butler has been the driving force behind the Bulls at both ends of the floor.  After the two sides couldn’t come together on a contract extension, he’s driving toward restricted free agency next summer as the No. 1 option in the Bulls’ offense while also guarding the best perimeter players on opposing teams.  That’s making your case.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s probably several good answers, but Courtney Lee jumps to mind for me because the Grizzlies have been terrific and he supplies a lot of what they need by hitting shots, especially 3-pointers, for a team slightly below average in scoring. On a team where everyone else gets the publicity — Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen — Lee has been invaluable to the start. Jimmy Butler and Reggie Jackson should be mentioned as well, although I think both have been improving for a while. I don’t know that either qualifies as “lesser known.”

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m sure his early numbers are partly due to being on a team that can’t score and also not having Michael Carter-Williams around much, but Tony Wroten is making the most of his opportunity. He came into this season as a guy who could reach the rim but couldn’t shoot a lick, and yet he’s making 34 percent of his threes (up from a career 26-percent) and leading the Sixers in scoring, assists and steals which, I know I know, is only worth so much. Honorable mention to Garrett Temple keeping the seat warm in DC for Bradley Beal, and Donald Sloan holding it down for George Hill in Indy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comSolomon Hill is a guy who spent a lot of time on the inactive list as a rookie last year and who looked a little overwhelmed at the start of this season. But he’s shown a lot of improvement as the depleted Pacers have won three of their last four. I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a full-time starter in this league, and he basically “opened my eyes” in one game, looking rather comfortable running the pick-and-roll and finding good shots against the Bulls’ defense on Saturday. But he could be a solid rotation guy as the Pacers get healthy, with this experience as a starter being an important part of his development.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ve got to give it up to Donald Sloan in Indiana. When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to pounce. And that’s exactly what Sloan has done. The chance for a journeyman to be showcased doesn’t come along very day. The injury to George Hill provided the opening Sloan needed to prove his worth and he’s run with it. He’s cooled off a bit recently. And that’s to be expected. But he started off the season like wildfire and produced one half of the best duels of the season with his career night against John Wall and the Washington Wizarsds. Sloan will likely return to the anonymity of the Pacers’ bench. Until then, however, he;d be wise to stay on the attack

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEvan Fournier stepped in for Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (who recently returned from injury) and proved to be a versatile scorer and playmaker. Fournier is seven years younger than Arron Afflalo, for whom he was traded; and he’s providing better shooting and production than Denver is getting from Afflalo.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s Dennis Schröder seems to have turned some kind of corner. He didn’t play much as a rookie, but this season seems to have bumped Shelvin Mack from the rotation and has bettered his career highs several times. He has such a unique combination of athleticism and speed that he could make a real impact off the bench this season for the Hawks. If you don’t believe me, ask Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s been plenty of surprising performances to start the season, with one of the most surprising being the Bucks’ 6-5 start and the performance of Brandon Knight. The fourth-year point guard came over in a trade for Brandon Jennings and now looks to be the better player. There were knocks on his ability to run an offense competently, read passing lanes and just pick up the general nuances of being a point guard. He’s slowly starting to arrest some of those fears as his stocks begin to rise. His 17.9 points, 6.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 39 percent shooting from deep has been eye catching. Maybe working with one of the best point guards in NBA history is rubbing off on him.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: Jimmy Butler. Maybe he’s well known now, but he’s a no-brainer to me. We love him because we love to see him play that kind of hustle, grind, bloody games, and we thought he could be a key 3-D guy in a championship team. On the other words, we never thought he could be that good. He just established himself into a go-to guy on a terrific team (21.3 PPG,6.2 RPG,3.9 APG). Look at his number, he’s literally a better version of Luol Deng, even if this just his third year in the league. Statistics cheat, but the ball don’t lie.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Nikola Vucevic is becoming a force in the paint. He is averaging 18.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, great numbers for a 24-years-old center. There are not many other players than have his touch around the basket and, above all, his consistency.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: Chris Copeland, who was a rookie at age 28 for the New York Knicks, has made a place for himself in the NBA after going through Spain’s second division and minor leagues in Germany and Belgium. This season, he’s taking advantage of an opportunity and his game is reflected in the stats.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Of course, as a German I have to pick Dennis Schröder. He made a big jump this summer. The debut with the German national team gave him a big boost. He had to take a leading role in the team and he mastered it with bravery. Schröder plays with more confidence, his body language changed completely and that helps on the court. His turnover ratio is way better (still not perfect) than last year, he added the left-handed layup to his game and improved his jump-shot. With his new confidence he gained the trust of his teammates and coach Mike Budenholzer. Or have you expected that the Hawks will play ISO for Schröder? No one could do that after his difficult first year. He’s finally arrived in the league, but it’s still a long way to go.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I’m really loving the improved play from Jimmy Butler this season. While the top items of concern in Chicago seem to be Derrick Rose’s health, Joakim Noah‘s play or Pau Gasol‘s addition, I feel that Butler has emerged as the breakout star of the season. He has taken advantage of his offensive opportunities in Rose’s absence (and even his presence) and continues to be one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. I like that he’s asserting himself more aggressively on both sides of the floor this season: In a few years, I feel he has the potential of becoming one of the most-feared wing players in the league.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Jimmy Butler is becoming a lethal 2-way player, probably one of the biggest reasons why Chicago can survive without Derrick Rose. He was a defensive specialist, he’s adding a lot of offensive moves and he’s averaging 21.3 points per game. I really like his versatility, his strength, he’s ability to defend the best opponent on the perimeter and be a factor offensively.

19blogtable575x802Amended
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

‘At 6-11, playing point guard…’ in Antetokounmpo’s future?


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo gets it done on both ends

MILWAUKEE – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich got laughs during The Finals when he talked about Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan’s undying belief that, deep down, he’s a 6-foot-11 point guard.

No one was goofing around Saturday night, though, when folks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center actually saw one.

Derrick Rose wasn’t on the court for Chicago; in fact, the Bulls used backups Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks the whole fourth quarter. The stakes were low in a contest played in the middle of October.

Still, there was significance to be found when Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo played point guard for the Bucks for the final quarter of their 91-85 loss to the Bulls.

Milwaukee lost the game but won that particular quarter, 24-17. And lest you forget, Antetokounmpo stands 6-11, courtesy of a two-inch growth spurt in the offseason.

“I feel like if I handle the ball it gives me the opportunity to go around the bigs and go to the basket,” the second-year teenager from Greece said afterward. “Not only that, but I tried to make my teammates better. That’s what I was thinking.”

It wasn’t 12 minutes of John Stockton out there on the throwback MECCA hardwood. None of the Bucks, frankly, benefited more from Antetokounmpo at the point than Antetokounmpo, who scored nine points but passed for no assists in the period. Then again, he made four of his seven shots while his teammates combined to shoot 5-of-17 in the fourth, so assists were hard to come by.

“I thought Giannis did a great job for us at the point, running the show, finding guys and also being able to find his shot,” said Jason Kidd – who ought to know, right? “We kind of fell into it with B. Knight being hurt [minor leg injury] and I didn’t want to run up [Kendall Marshall’s] minutes. So this was a perfect situation against a talented team to give him a chance to see what he can do at the point.”

The extra-long point guard is one of those NBA breakthroughs that pretty much began and ended with Magic Johnson. Given Johnson’s massive success as the 6-foot-9 ringleader of “Showtime,” people assumed the league would soon be dominated by converted shooting guards and small forwards as their team’s primary playmakers.

It never became a trend, because players with similar skills and aptitudes were in such short supply – and Johnson’s game came to be revered even more than before. Oh, we’ve had a few; Jalen Rose and Shaun Livingston come to mind. The term “point forward” still gets used – LeBron James and Kevin Durant surely have played that role, and Chicago’s Joakim Noah often looked like a “point center” in Rose’s absence last season.

But Antetokounmpo, who ran the point at times at the Las Vegas Summer League in July, is trying to cut his teeth at the position at least on a part-time, as-needed basis. His most memorable highlight Saturday was more garden-variety Giannis – blocking Taj Gibson’s shot at one end, then sprinting down the floor to finish with a dunk at the other end. And yet, Kidd praised the kid for a different scoring chance.

“Yeah, he showed, I thought it was, kind of that Magic Johnson baby hook,” the coach said.

With Knight, Marshall, Jerryd Bayless and Nate Wolters on the roster, there might not be an extreme need for Antetokounmpo to work as the consummate floor general’s floor general. Kidd mostly wants him and fellow teen Jabari Parker to slow down as they learn, even though he wants the Bucks to pick up the pace of their attack.

Antetokounmpo today isn’t the point guard – or the anything – he might become with more experience. But he’s getting a taste and giving a glimpse. Several Bulls players noticed a hike in Antetokounmpo’s confidence.

“I haven’t seen a small guard take the ball from him or give him too much pressure,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “He’ll start going more north and south than east and west, and we’ll start taking advantage of his size.

“It’s the ultimate weapon to me. He can post up and bang and exploit mismatches. … He expands our lineup, especially defensively.”

Tale of the tape: Two Brandons

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t won much this season, but they did win this: Their summertime swap of Brandons.

The July 31 deal was bigger than just that, with Khris Middleton adding to the Bucks’ haul (Viacheslav Kravtsov was just ballast) . But at its core, the sign-and-trade was about a swap of and preference in combo guards Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings. Jennings had exploded on the scene in Milwaukee in 2009-10, scoring 55 points in his seventh NBA game. That immediately triggered second-guessing in New York, where the Knicks had drafted Jordan Hill two spots ahead of Jennings, and kick-started Milwaukee’s “Fear The Deer” season in which they finished 46-36, reached the playoffs and might have made some real noise if not for center Andrew Bogut‘s arm and wrist injuries from an ugly spill late in the regular season.

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings
(Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Jennings’ quick start as a scorer, however, hurt his game, in the opinion of some NBA scouts. His shoot-first inclinations calcified, despite unimpressive accuracy numbers (39.4 percent shooting, 35.4 on 3-pointers, in four seasons with the Bucks). He also had difficulty finishing at the rim.

Yet Jennings stayed bold with his shot, showing less interest in setting up teammates. That led to some locker-room frustration, even squabbles, especially when Jennings could respond to an All-Star snub by averaging 14.5 assists for a week but was down at 5.7 for four Bucks seasons.

He hit restricted free agency ready for a change. Milwaukee was ready too, agreeing to a swap for Knight while Jennings landed a three-year, $24 million deal in Detroit.

Knight had heard many of the same criticisms in two seasons in Detroit: Not a true point guard, a ‘tweener, and so on. But the Bucks liked his size, his skills, his age and his salary, and despite the presence of other guards (Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, O.J. Mayo, Nate Wolters, later Ramon Sessions), flipped the keys of their offense to the south Florida native.

Knight showed a lot of Jennings’ tendencies for the Bucks without generating hard feelings. He has shot the ball 200 times more than any teammate, despite his 41.7 percent success rate, and he leads the team in 3-point attempts (306) if not accuracy (32.7). He’s their leader in assists, too, but with an average (4.9) lower than Jennings averaged in his four Bucks seasons. Ditto for Knight’s turnovers (2.6), higher than what Jennings coughed up while there.

But he’s two years younger than Jennings, two years away from unrestricted free agency and a lot more affordable. Coincidentally, Knight is only the second player in Bucks history to lead the team in both points and assists in his first season with the club. The first? Jennings.

Bucks coach Larry Drew talked up Knight before a game against Miami last weekend.

“There was always the big question, could he play point? I still think that Brandon is a very young developing player,” Drew said. “Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Did I know that Brandon was actually younger than Michael Carter-Williams?’ … You think about that. We think of Michael Carter-Williams as a really young terrific NBA player. He has a chance to be Rookie of the Year. It seems like Brandon has been around for a few more years.

“Brandon wants to get better, he wants to learn. We challenge him at that point guard position – that’s such a vital position in our league. He’s still making mistakes, and that’s something we have to continue to work with him on. But after all that’s been said about him from the very beginning, particularly when he was in Detroit, I thought he came into this thing very positive. And I know he was in the mindset of wanting to prove something.”

With their seasons nearly complete and their teams’ series ending earlier this week. it seemed like a good time to tell the tale of two Brandons with a tale of the tape:

Essentials:
Jennings: 6-foot-1, 169 pounds. Born Sept. 23, 1989 (24). No. 10 pick in 2009.
Knight: 6-foot-3, 189 pounds. Born Dec. 2, 1991 (22). No. 8 pick in 2011.
Comment: It’s hard to beat Jennings’ elusiveness and quickness, but Knight is fast, too. And the Bucks feel his size is better suited to playing the defense that, in time, they think he’s capable of providing.
Advantage: Knight.

Team W-L record
Jennings: 27-48, fourth in the Central Division.
Knight: 14-61, last in the Central.
Comment: With nearly double the victories, this might be classified as a blowout for Jennings. Then again, winning 27 gets you a lottery spot same as winning 14, except that Milwaukee might land a guarantee of no pick worse than No. 4. The Pistons will need to get lucky to leap ahead of the Bucks.
Advantage: Jennings (c’mon, winning games still matters).

Basic individual stats
Jennings: 15.7 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.0 rpg, 34.3 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.3 steals. 37.7 FG%, 34.5 3FG%.
Knight: 17.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.5 rpg, 32.9 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.0 steals, 41.7 FG%, 32.7 3FG%.
Comment: Jennings’ assists numbers are a personal high, reflective of the scoring talent around him – Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Rodney Stuckey – and Detroit’s presumed desire to win and play right at least early in the season. Knight has self-nominated as the “someone has to score on a bad team” guy.
Advantage: Even.

Advanced individual stats:
Jennings: 107 offensive rating, 112 defensive rating, 35.1 assists %, 44.6 eFG%, 16.3 PER.
Knight: 104 offensive rating, 113 defensive rating, 27.1 assists %, 46.8 eFG%, 16.4 PER.
Comment: A little credit here, a little debit there, it’s awfully close. But then you notice that Jennings’ PER, effective field-goal percentage and offensive/defensive ratings all have gotten worse from two seasons ago (18.4, 47.6%, 106/107) and, two years further along than Knight, he’s headed the wrong way.
Advantage: Knight.

Head-to-head
Jennings: 20.5 ppg, 10.3 apg, 2.8 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, plus-13.4 ppg in four games against Milwaukee.
Knight: 15.3 ppg, 5.8 apg4.3 rpg, 32.1 FG%, 21.4 3FG%, minus-14.6 ppg in the four meetings.
Comment: Jennings left Milwaukee with a fair amount of baggage, even bitterness. It figures he would have more to prove, more of a statement to make, than Knight when facing his former team. And sure enough, Jennings did. The Pistons went 3-1 against the Bucks this season.
Advantage: Jennings.

Contract
Jennings: $7.7 million this season, another $16.3 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Knight: $2.8 million salary this season, $8.3 million the next two years.
Comment: On a per-points, per-assists, per-anything basis, Knight already is a better buy than Jennings and figures to stay that way for another two seasons.
Advantage: Knight.

Pacers A Different Team After Half


VIDEO: Pacers fall to Suns for second home defeat

The List

Highest standard deviation, quarter-to-quarter NetRtg

Team VOff Rank VDef Rank VNet
Indiana 7.2 1 3.7 14 10.4
Toronto 4.2 9 4.8 9 8.3
Minnesota 5.3 5 3.1 19 8.3
Milwaukee 3.5 13 4.9 8 8.0
New Orleans 5.8 3 6.5 1 7.9
Portland 2.2 26 5.5 5 7.4
Detroit 5.1 7 2.2 25 7.2
New York 2.6 20 5.5 6 6.5
Philadelphia 2.5 21 5.7 4 6.2
Boston 2.8 19 4.0 12 6.1

Standard deviation measures variance or, for our purposes, inconsistency.
VOff = Offensive variance (OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions)
VDef = Defensive variance (DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions)
VNet = Net variance (NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions)

The Context

So essentially, the Pacers are the most inconsistent team in the league from quarter to quarter, which is weird, because they’re, by far, the best defensive team in the league. As we pointed out last week, they’re the best defensive team of the last 37 years (though that differential is down to 9.2), and strong defense is supposed to be the backbone of consistent success.

The Pacers have the No. 1 defense in the first, third and fourth quarters, and the No. 4 defense in the second, though there’s a pretty big difference between the (ridiculously good) 88.8 points per 100 possessions they allow in the third quarter and the (still pretty good) 97.7 they allow in the second. Still, it’s on offense where there’s a lot more fluctuation.

Pacers efficiency, by period

Quarter OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
1st quarter 96.1 27 94.7 1 +1.4 15
2nd quarter 96.4 27 97.7 4 -1.3 16
3rd quarter 110.1 3 88.8 1 +21.2 1
4th quarter 107.3 12 94.8 1 +12.5 2
Half OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
1st half 96.3 28 96.2 2 +0.0 15
2nd half 108.7 4 91.8 1 +16.9 1

There have been two different Pacers teams this season. The First Half Pacers have scored about as efficiently as the Bucks. The Second Half Pacers have an offense more closely resembling the Heat.

Indiana has had the lead at halftime in 24 of their 45 games. They’ve outscored their opponent in the second half of 35 of the 45.

In general, there’s a big offensive drop-off when the Pacers go to their bench. (Thursday’s loss to the Suns was the definition of a bench loss, as well as an example of how they’ve played better after halftime.) But the half-to-half offensive drop-off has been spread rather evenly among their starters and bench units.

Efficiency of Pacers’ starting lineup, by half

Half MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
1st half 403 101.5 96.5 +4.9 +35
2nd half 395 112.0 89.6 +22.4 +172
Difference   10.5 -6.9 17.4  

Efficiency of other Pacers’ lineups, by half

Half MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
1st half 676 93.2 96.1 -2.8 -32
2nd half 684 106.9 93.0 +13.9 +180
Difference   13.6 -3.1 16.7  

The Pacers have turned the ball over at the same rate in both halves and are only a slightly better offensive rebounding team in the second half. But they’ve shot much better and gotten to the free-throw line a lot more often in the second half. They’ve also assisted on a greater percentage of their buckets.

Paul George and Lance Stephenson have been much better shooters in the second half of games. George and George Hill have much higher free throw rates. And both Stephenson and Hill have had higher assist rates. Off the bench, C.J. Watson has shot a lot better and also dished out more assists after halftime.

The Pacers’ half-to-half discrepancy has lessened some over the last seven weeks. Through their first 22 games, they were scoring 20.4 more points per 100 possessions in the second half. Over their last 23, the difference is only 4.8.

Amazingly, the Pacers had the second most consistent offense from quarter to quarter last season, behind only the Suns, who were just consistently awful on that end.

This season, Indiana has found a new gear on both ends of the floor in that third quarter. Their plus-21.2 NetRtg in those 12 minutes is, by far, the best of any team in any quarter. Next best are San Antonio’s plus-13.3 in the second quarter and Toronto’s plus-13.3 in the fourth.

Whether they’re consistent or inconsistent from quarter to quarter, the Pacers are a much better team than they were last season. But it will be interesting to see if their third-quarter dominance is a big factor in their quest for a championship.

The Video

Here are the Pacers’ 19 field goals from the second half of their Dec. 10 win over the Heat. They shot 19-for-35 to outscore Miami 50-37 after halftime, and they assisted on 16 of the 19 buckets.

The bottom of the list

The Brooklyn Nets have been the most consistent team from quarter to quarter. That’s not really a good thing, because they’ve had a negative NetRtg in all four periods.

But it is good that they’ve turned their early-season, third-quarter struggles around. Through their first 19 games, the Nets had been outscored by 20.9 points per 100 possessions in the third. Over their last 24 games, they’ve been a plus-8.8.

Trivia question

Among 200 players that have played at least 150 minutes, who has been the most inconsistent from quarter to quarter (in terms of our PIE statistic, which measures overall production as a percentage of all the stats accumulated while that player is on the floor)?

More quarter-by-quarter notes

Trivia answer

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the most inconsistent player from quarter to quarter. MKG has recorded a PIE of 12.4 percent in the first quarter, -1.1 percent in the second quarter, 6.5 percent in the third, and 5.4 percent in the fourth. See his quarter-by-quarter numbers here.

Next on the list are Brandon Knight (very good in the second quarter, pretty bad in the fourth), Jamal Crawford (a slow starter and strong finisher), Jimmy Butler (he puts his best numbers up in the third), and Kevin Garnett (first-half KG has been a lot better than second-half KG).

Interestingly, the most consistent player from quarter-to-quarter has been Kidd-Gilchrist’s teammate. Gerald Henderson‘s PIE gets worse every quarter, but only drops from 9.8 percent in the first to 8.8 percent in the fourth. After Henderson, it’s Klay Thompson, Jameer Nelson, Joakim Noah and Richard Jefferson.

Bucks’ Wolters Isn’t In South Dakota Anymore

VIDEO: The Prospect Profile on Nate Wolters

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MILWAUKEE – Caron Butler, a two-time NBA All-Star in his 12th professional season, did all he could to avoid looking into the stands at the BMO Bradley Center Saturday night in Milwaukee. Butler, even now, said he gets “too excited” at times and the Bucks’ home opener against Toronto was one of them, the guy from nearby Racine, Wis., playing in front of “mama, Grandma, aunts, uncles … children, all five of ‘em.”

So, imagine what it was like for Nate Wolters, Milwaukee’s unheralded rookie — the No. 38 pick in June out of South Dakota State — the guy commonly thought of as the fifth guard on Milwaukee’s roster.

Four nights into his NBA career, in this third game, Wolters was on the floor at the beginning and at the end. With Brandon Knight (hamstring) and Luke Ridnour (back) ailing — and with point guard fill-in O.J. Mayo showing up late for the team’s shootaround that day — Wolters was tabbed by coach Larry Drew for the starting role against the Raptors. He wound up on the floor longer than anyone else Saturday, playing 36 minutes that included the final 10 when Drew settled on his closing crew (at least for the night) and Milwaukee erased a 12-point lead to briefly tie.

What must have been going through Wolters’ head, running the Bucks’ offense from tipoff in front of 16,046 people after playing his college ball in a 6,500-seat gym?

“Everything,” Butler said. “He was [extremely raw] at times. I tried to continue to stay in his ear and motivate him and encourage him.

“It’s been tough. Luke’s been out and obviously Brandon. But I thought Nate did a great job filling in that role to the best of his ability. That’s a lot to ask for a first-year guy, but I thought he did a great job hands-down.”

The 6-foot-4 Wolters scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and passed for 10 assists with one turnover in his splashy home debut. He also played well enough off the bench in his first two games staged at virtual NBA shrines — at Madison Square Garden and on the parquet floor of the Boston Celtics. He might look like an extra from “Hoosiers” running around out there, but he is averaging 10 points and 6.7 assists, while giving Drew a little of the playmaking the coach craves.

“What I like about what he did [in Boston] was he came in and got us organized,” Drew said. “We’ve had problems with that … I’ve got to have organization at the very beginning. I can’t have guys just everybody looking for their shots. He’s been in this situation before. He knows the position. And he’s starting to get more and more comfortable at the position.”

“More comfortable” as in, equally nervous regardless of level or challenge.

“Even before every game — even high school and college — you get nervous,” Wolters said after the loss Saturday. “It’s just one of those things, once you get out there playing, it’s basketball. Get used to it. Once I get going, I’m fine.”

Wolters, a high school hotshot in St. Cloud, Minn., helped South Dakota State make the first two NCAA appearances in school history. As a senior, he averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists for the Jackrabbits and scored 53 points (with nine 3-pointers) — the top points total in Division I last season — in a game at Fort Wayne. Wolters was a third-team AP All-America selection and a finalist for the Wooden and Cousy awards.

Just a month into his Bucks experience, he’s got the “we” part down. He is developing a little on-court chemistry with Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. He knows he needs to shoot better (11-for-30 so far). And he said he feels no overload in his NBA orientation-slash-immersion.

“No, not at all,” Wolters said. “In college, I played every minute. So I’m used to these kinds of minutes. I didn’t expect to be playing anywhere near this many minutes, but it is what it is. I’m enjoying it and treating it like a learning experience. … I’ve got a good group of veterans who can help me out.”

Though the Bucks played a preseason game in Sioux Falls, within an hour of Wolters’ old campus, and Drew showcased him in the fourth quarter that night against Cleveland, he is quite aware he’s not in Brookings, S.D., anymore.

“It kind of helped that we played in the NCAA tournament, so I played in this type of atmosphere before,” Wolters said. “But obviously, the NBA’s a little different. It’s just been an amazing experience, especially going to New York and Boston, those type of places. It’s been fun.”

And fortunately for Milwaukee, he’s been up to it.

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

Griffin, Clippers Retire Lob City



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Those critics who claimed the Los Angeles Clippers were all style and no substance last season will have to find something else to nit-pick about the reigning Pacific Division champions.

Because “Lob City” is finished. No more. History.

One of the central figures in the movement, Clippers All-Star dunk machine Blake Griffin, has declared it D.O.A. under coach Doc Rivers. The new coach is all about substance in his effort to take the Clips from an exciting, playoff-regular group to an actual championship contender. With a new, defensive-minded focus and significant shift in how they’ll play on offense, there is simply no room for the flash that was Lob City, as Griffin detailed to ESPN’s Shelly Smith:

“Lob City doesn’t exist anymore. Lob City is done. We’re moving on and we’re going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City.”

The fun police can blame Rivers. He won’t mind. As long as his team is grinding on both ends and playing up to its potential, he’ll be pleased. Fans who had grown accustomed to the “Lob City” mentality, though, will need time to adjust. I know I will after enjoying Griffin and DeAndre Jordan‘s slam-dunk finishes off tosses from Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford the past couple of seasons.

But it’s a necessary change, Griffin said, for the greater good:

“Our offense is going to have a totally different look this year,” said Griffin, who added that he’d done a lot of work in the offseason on his face-up game from 10 to 15 feet. “Our offense is going to have a lot of movement and floor spacing. I’m looking forward to it.”

Of course, not everyone will feel the same way about the end of Lob City.

Griffin, the 2010 NBA Slam Dunk champion, said he gets that.

“People will still wear T-shirts,” Griffin said. “I can’t really go to people’s houses and take their T-shirts and cut them up. But we [will] have a new identity as a team and that’s going to be what we work out during training camp.

“We’ll take about two or three weeks and really come up with something good.”

This news will be greeted with smiles by guys like Brandon Knight, Kendrick Perkins, Timofey Mozgov and countless others who have found themselves on the wrong end a highlight from an encounter with the Clippers.

R.I.P. “Lob City” … it was fun while it lasted!

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siva Comes Out Ahead In Jennings Deal

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Only time will tell if Brandon Jennings will be more efficient with the Detroit Pistons or if Brandon Knight will develop into a steady point guard with the Milwaukee Bucks. But we can already declare a winner in the sign-and-trade deal that swapped the two Brandons across the Central Division: Peyton Siva.

The Pistons selected Siva, who led Louisville to a national championship in April, with the No. 56 pick in June. He came from a rough background, starred at Louisville and achieved his dream of being drafted, but hadn’t actually made the NBA yet. There are no guarantees for a second-round pick who may never see training camp.

Before the trade, the Pistons had 16 players on the roster, and as the last of three draftees behind four other (full or part-time) point guards (Knight, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey), Siva looked to be the odd man out.

Siva understood the roster math, but he says he “wasn’t worried about it.” And his agent, Andy Miller, wasn’t looking at contingency plans. Erick Green, another college senior selected 10 spots before Siva, was in a similar situation in Denver and signed with Montepaschi Siena in Italy.

“Our goal was to go through training camp and be a part of the Pistons organization in some capacity,” Miller said. “We didn’t have a secondary strategy, because our primary and sole strategy was that he was going to be a part of the Pistons organization.”

Miller told Siva that Pistons GM Joe Dumars wasn’t done putting his team together, but that didn’t necessarily mean that there was a roster spot for the point guard.

“Our plan all along,” Dumars said, “was to either have Siva with us or retain his rights.”

But then Bucks GM John Hammond asked Dumars if he was interested in Jennings, and they put together a trade that sent Viacheslav Kravtsov and Khris Middleton to Milwaukee along with Knight. That took the Pistons roster from 16 to 14.

“I was definitely happy about it,” Siva said of the trade, knowing what it mean for him personally.

Five days later, he was signed.

Of course, Siva is still behind four point guards in Detroit. And he knows he has to become a better shooter to stick in the NBA. But he stood out in Summer League, recording 24 assists to just six turnovers, even though the Pistons shot less than 40 percent. He has the ability to get into the paint and create open shots for his teammates. Defensively, as his four steals in the 2013 NCAA championship game made clear, he can be a pest.

The Pistons have loaded up on talent to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. But with the depth in the backcourt, Dumars knows they can be patient with Siva.

“We see him providing depth and spending some time in the [NBA] D-League,” Dumars said. “There’s no rush with Peyton.”

If you’ve read Siva’s story (and you really should read Siva’s story), you know how much he had to go through to get here. He had to grow up fast and avoid the pitfalls that his father and siblings couldn’t. And at barely six feet tall, he certainly couldn’t rely on his physical gifts to get him here.

Every NBA player makes it to the league with some combination of their physical talent, the work they put in and the opportunities they were presented. For Siva, the story is about the work and his attitude. Yet he still feels lucky.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t get a chance to make it, so I’m just really blessed and I’m just happy to be here.”

He’s an easy player to root for. For Dumars, he was an easy player to invest in.

“There are several things we like about Peyton,” Dumars said, “his toughness, his ability to run the point, his winning approach. He’s a great teammate and he brings a great spirit.”

And for Miller, he’s an easy player to represent.

“He’s a quality human being all the way around,” Miller said. “You would not know that he’s a rookie the way he handles himself.

“I know that agents are supposed to talk up their players, but this is a guy that I’m not sheepish about doing it, because I really don’t think there’s anything to hide about him.”

In life, as he was in April and as he was in the Bucks-Pistons trade, Siva’s a winner.

Jennings Gets Paid, Fresh Start In Detroit

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brandon Jennings was running low on options. As a restricted free agent from the Milwaukee Bucks, he had strained for more than a year at the leash holding him to that club. Jennings previously talked fondly of bigger markets and then sent max-salary shots across the Bucks’ bow as his semi-freedom approached, a not-so-subtle way of discouraging them from flexing their matching rights.

Unfortunately for Jennings, when he hit the marketplace, the marketplace hit back. It was bad enough that others, including his self-absorbed backcourt mate Monta Ellis, found jobs and millions; it was worse when Jennings’ own team, the Bucks, tried to procure his replacement, Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, with a four-year, $32 million offer sheet it wasn’t willing to give Jennings. The Hawks matched but the message was clear – Jennings’ business with the Bucks had festered into something other than mere leverage.

So his options were few, barring a philosophical change by Milwuakee. Jennings could sign the one-year, $4.5 million qualifying offer with the Bucks and try again next July. In theory, that might have made sense: A motivated player, his team benefiting as he hoists his market value.

But anyone familiar with the Bucks’ situation and locker room knew that scenario would be rife with pitfalls. A sensitive lad, a little light on the maturity scale, Jennings could end up playing self-consciously and, thus, unnaturally. It wouldn’t guarantee that his game – high energy but shoot first, with too many shaky finishes at the rim and a laissez-faire defensive attitude – would budge a bit from the plateau on which it has settled. And an agitated Jennings wouldn’t help a locker room mood hoping for some addition-by-subtraction (Ellis, Samuel Dalembert).

How ‘bout spending 2013-14 in Europe? Jennings, after all, had taken that creative route around the one-and-done eligibility rule prior to the 2009 Draft in which Milwaukee picked him 10th overall. But no, NBA free-agency rules don’t work that way; Jennings still would be Bucks’ property.

So the multiple reports Tuesday afternoon that the Bucks and the Detroit Pistons were completing a sign-and-trade to ship Jennings to Motown made a lot of sense. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, Detroit would send to Milwaukee guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton and center Viacheslav Kravtsov. Estimates of Jennings’ three-year deal ranged from $24 million to more than $25 million, putting him in the same financial neighborhood as Teague but for one year less.

In Jennings, the Pistons get a talented backcourt player who has averaged 17.0 points and 5.7 assists in four NBA seasons. He is a career 39.4 percent shooter, so he won’t bring the range to pull defenses away from big men Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. He’ll be teaming with veteran Chauncey Billups, back with Detroit after a summer signing.

Milwaukee already had added guard O.J. Mayo in free agency, traded to get back Luke Ridnour and introduced its latest addition, former San Antonio guard Gary Neal, to local media Tuesday. Knight, whose trial as Detroit’s point guard suggested to some he was better suited to shooting guard, still has potential to intrigue Bucks GM John Hammond – the No. 8 pick in the 2011 Draft won’t turn 22 until Dec. 2. And since when does a shoot-first point guard trouble the Bucks?