VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 20
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ Thompson: We’re the best backcourt in NBA | Kyrie’s comeback and LeBron’s promise to Love | Butler finding his voice … time for Hoiberg to do the same? | Bucks turn to Prunty in Kidd’s absence
No. 1: Warriors’ Thompson: We’re the best backcourt in NBA — Ask Klay Thompson a question and prepare for the Golden State Warriors All-Star to tell you the truth, his truth. When asked to identify the best point guard and shooting guard in the NBA, Thompson picked his Splash Brother counterpart and reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry and himself, without hesitation. It’s hard to argue against one half of the league’s most dynamic shooting/scoring duo. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group asked the questions and explains Thompson’s answer:
Asked to name the best player at each position in the NBA, Klay Thompson picked Warriors teammate Stephen Curry as the point guard and then paused.
“I’m going to go with myself,” Thompson said of his pick for the top shooting guard, throwing up his hands. “We’re 26-1.”
He noted that the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Houston Rockets’ James Harden were among the candidates in his mind before reiterating his choice.
“I have confidence in myself,” Thompson said Saturday.
Thompson projected plenty of confidence this week, scoring more points than any player on the floor with his 43-point game against the Phoenix Suns and 27-point outing in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Thompson, after a slow start to the season while dealing with back and ankle injuries, is shooting a career-best 47.3 percent from the field.
“When you play with a free mind and you play thinking you’re not hurt and you’re healthy, that’s when you’re playing your best,” Thompson said. “I want to continue playing like this, get better every month.
“I know I’ll have a great year.”
Curry’s exploits might have taken away from some of Thompson’s numbers during the Warriors’ historic start. The shooting guard is averaging 19.3 points after averaging 21.7 during an All-Star campaign last season.
With 80 made 3-pointers, Thompson is still tied for second in the league. Curry is first with a whopping 131.
“Right now, Steph’s a better shooter,” Thompson said. “I’m trying to catch him. Just by a little, though. Not by a lot. I can’t say he’s way better than me. He is one of the greatest, and it’s an honor to be in the same backcourt with him.”
No. 2: Kyrie’s comeback and LeBron’s promise to Love — Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving back in the lineup and the roster is at full strength, we’re going to see just how effective this team is playing up to the promise LeBron James made earlier this season. He vowed that he would do everything in his power to keep Kevin Love more involved in the offense and to share the (ball and the) load equally between the three of them, something that didn’t appear to be the case in Kyrie’s season debut and first game since he fractured his knee cap in Game of The Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com examines the performance of Cleveland’s refreshed Big 3 after Sunday’s blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers:
Cleveland wasn’t threatened after the second period and Irving played nearly five of his 17 total minutes in the fourth while James and Love rested comfortably. James was easily the leader of the bunch with 23 points in a season-low 25 minutes; Irving added 12 after missing his first five shots and Love contributed 10 despite missing much of the first half in foul trouble.
But the truth is James and Irving iso’d their way to a dominant second half last season while Love was visibly frustrated as a distant third wheel. The Cavs were the NBA’s best team during that stretch and of course reached the Finals, so it’s not as though there was a demand for change.
Rather, there was a promise – mostly by James on the former, more an urging from coach David Blatt with the latter — to keep Love more involved and to better move the ball as a team than the Cavs did in stretches last year. Love signed his five-year, $113 million deal to return to Cleveland last summer knowing that James and Blatt were dedicated to more utilizing his lost-post skills, which should make it easier on him to get more open threes.
James is still third in the NBA in isolation scoring and his team is 10th, but last season he and Irving were second and third in the league in running isolation and the team scored more points that way than anyone else.
This season, Cleveland’s total assists (23.0 per game, 7th in NBA) and assist ratio (17.6 assists per 100 possessions, 5th in NBA) are both up. And Love’s numbers (17.3 points per game, 13.4 shots per game) are better.
One notable difference: until Sunday, Irving hadn’t been on the floor. With him back in the fold, the question remains whether Irving’s presence will allow James to keep his promise to Love?
“We just made the change from me and ‘Bron being ball dominant last year to us having a lot more options on our offense and utilizing our weapons,” Irving said.
Only James Harden and Carmelo Anthony have scored more than James’ 134 points in isolation this season. James runs an iso play on 21 percent of the Cavs’ possessions. And yet he’s clearly ceded some of the ball-handling duties he assumed last season with Irving on the floor to Mo Williams and Matthew Dellavedova.
No. 3:Butler finding his voice, time for Hoiberg to do the same? — Much was made of Jimmy Butler‘s comments about the Chicago Bulls, himself included, needing to be “coached harder” this season. It seemed like a shot at Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, whose style differs dramatically from the man he replaced, Tom Thibodeau. There’s another way to look at it, though. Butler is clearly finding his way as a leader and potential superstar and in finding his voice in that Bulls locker room he’s sure to endure a few missteps. But perhaps it’s time for Hoiberg to do the same, in terms of finding his voice with his team. Bulls Insider Vince Goodwill of CSNChicago.com tries to make some sense of the fallout:
Butler isn’t a player who’s been coddled or someone who was projected as a star at every turn. He’s turned into a max player because he poked and prodded at his limits while being poked and prodded by influential figures who brought out the best in him at that time (Buzz Williams at Marquette, Thibodeau in Chicago).
He’s a worker, a grinder in every sense.
Butler is a great player, and great players at every level of sport want to be coached. They know they don’t know everything, and there are times when the effort or concentration isn’t up to par.
Great players don’t mind being held to that standard, even through gritted teeth and rolled eyes, because of what’s waiting on the back end of that foul language.
This doesn’t look like a max player who’s now feeling himself deciding to make it known he’s the new sheriff in town, as some will make it appear to be.
Fans have longed for a player of his caliber to show the emotional investment to the results in the way they do with their pocketbook and their voices on various mediums.
Being upset that it comes from Butler dilutes that thought, or believing this hasn’t been simmering for quite some time. One can probably surmise Butler has been holding this frustration in for quite awhile, and that he’s so invested in the franchise he could no longer find it tolerable.
Butler has entered the strata where he’s put in the work to make his voice heard, and shouldn’t apologize for it, no matter what he says Monday before the Bulls’ next game against the Brooklyn Nets.
For all the personnel changes that will likely take place over the next couple of years, Butler will be the constant, a rock of consistency whose thoughts will matter at all levels of hierarchy.
No. 4:Bucks turn to Prunty in Kidd’s absence — The news that Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd would be sidelined indefinitely after hip surgery came as a surprise. It also puts Joe Prunty in the middle of the mix as Kidd’s replacement until he recovers and is able to return. The “interim” coach thing worked wonders for Luke Walton, Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors this season (a record 24-0 start and a 26-1 mark to this day). Now the Bucks, the team that provided the only stain on the Warriors’ record, have to navigate a similar path. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel has more:
The pain in Kidd’s hip stems from his time with the Dallas Mavericks late in his playing career. He said he has controlled it with cortisone shots and other measures, but he said the pain has become too much and caused him to be unable to sleep at night.
“It’s been chronic for the last three to four years, since I was in Dallas the last time,” Kidd said. “The pain has been to the point where I can’t function.
“I’ve taken all the medicine I can do. Talking to the doctors, there’s really no good time to do the surgery. I have to fix myself and then we move on and get back to work.”
Kidd said assistant Joe Prunty will lead the Bucks in his absence and keep his responsibilities for the offense while Sean Sweeney will continue in his role as the team’s defensive guru.
“We’re all set,” Kidd said. “Joe Prunty will take over and he will run the team. But nobody gets out of their lane. Joe will still be offense and Sweeney will still be defense.
“The guys have to continue to develop. It’s in good hands with the coaching staff. We’re built as a roundtable. Joe is well-qualified to keep these guys going in the right direction.”
Kidd said the surgery will be performed by Edwin Su, one of the leading hip specialists in the country, at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
“Some would say it’s the 55,000 minutes that I tried to play,” Kidd said. “A lot of wear and tear on my body. I’ve been blessed not to have too many surgeries. This is just one that has taken away from me being able to sleep and function.
“Especially when I’m trying to help these guys be the best they can be.”
Kidd said when he played with the Mavericks he was able to control the pain with medicine.
“I’ve taken enough of the cortisone shots that they don’t work,” he said. “We put it off as long as we could.”
Kidd, 42, ended his 19-year NBA career with the New York Knicks after the 2012-’13 season and played with the Mavericks, the team that drafted him in 1994, for a second time from 2008-’12. He won an NBA championship with Dallas in 2011.
Kidd said he won’t know when he can return to coaching until after the surgery.
He joked that Prunty should model himself after Luke Walton, who has posted a 26-1 record with Golden State while coach Steve Kerr recovers from off-season back surgery.
“It wouldn’t be bad for Joe to take what Luke has done,” Kidd said. “I wouldn’t be mad.
“No pressure for Joe.”
VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Jason Kidd’s situation in Milwaukee
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Billy Donovan might roll out the Hack-a-Jordan strategy tonight when the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers square off … Indiana’s Paul George misses the guidance he could always count on from David West … Kevin Garnett says Boston fans are better than New York fans … Hawks officials are touring other arenas this season to gather ideas for their own arena renovation project … Caron Butler and the Sacramento Kings are prepared to part ways … The Utah Jazz are finally playing a game at home before Christmas …