Posts Tagged ‘Caron Butler’

Clips Need Dudley’s 3-Ball To Heat Up


VIDEO: Jared Dudley steals and passes to Blake Griffin for the finish

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When the Los Angeles Clippers engaged in a three-team trade that netted J.J. Redick from Milwaukee and Jared Dudley from Phoenix, it seemed like a great idea. The Clippers needed floor-spacers and accurate 3-point shooters around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Then it became clear that Redick and Dudley, both mostly career backups, would be starters for a team with title aspirations. The 6-foot-4 Redick is essentially a one-trick pony, a sharpshooter, who was hitting just 35.9 percent of his long balls before fracturing his right hand. He played in 17 of the Clippers’ first 32 games and is expected to miss another two to four weeks.

Dudley has never averaged more than 12.7 ppg and his best statistical seasons from beyond the arc came as a 26-minute-or-less bench player with the Suns. So far as the Clippers’ starting small forward — he replaced the aging Caron Butler —  he’s slogging through the worst shooting of his career — 43.6 percent overall and 34.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s averaging 8.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg and 1.5 apg, numbers that rank near the bottom in every category for a starter at his position.

While the league’s general managers voted both Redick and Dudley as two of the most underrated moves during the offseason, Dudley also finished in a tie for third in the category: Which player makes the most of limited natural ability. If Dudley’s long ball isn’t falling, then his contribution to the team is going to be limited.

In the last five games, Dudley has logged more than 28 minutes once and is 4-for-19 from 3-point territory. The Clippers rank 26th in 3-point percentage (33.2) despite ranking seventh in the 3-point attempts per game (23.6).

“I don’t know why he’s not playing well, but we need him to play well,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “That [small forward] spot right now, it’s been hurting us a little bit. But Jared is still not healthy. He’s getting healthy. We’ve got to get him in better shape.”

Dudley is playing through tendinitis in his right knee, although it hasn’t caused him to miss any games. He told the Times that he’s playing at about 85 percent, but that he’s markedly better than the first 15 to 20 games.

He also knows he just hasn’t been playing well. A rough shooting stretch during the middle of the month, Dudley, a active and fan-friendly user on Twitter, actually apologized to Clippers fans:

During four consecutive wins from Dec. 16-22, Dudley knocked down 22 shots on 39 attempts and was 13-for-23 from downtown. In the last four games he’s just 9-for-26 from the floor. He has just eight points in the last three games, including being shut out at Portland.

The Clippers’ offensive efficiency is the same with Dudley off the floor as it is with him on the floor.

“When you’re a role guy, there are games when you’re not going to shoot that much,” Dudley told the Times. “One game I shot eight 3s. Some games you’re not going to shoot a 3, depending on the defense. You’ve got to be ready.”

As the starting small forward, and especially with Redick shelved for a few more weeks, Dudley’s point production from beyond the arc is critical for a team in a dead heat with Houston for the all-important fourth seed in the West.

New-Look Suns Getting It Done


VIDEO: Suns keep rolling, drop Pelicans

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Of the 16 players that suited up for the Phoenix Suns last season, 12 are gone.

Then there was the ultimate short-timer Caron Butler, a Suns player this summer just long enough to model the franchise’s new uniforms at a Scottsdale mall. In all, eight players are new to the roster, and straight from the feel-good department is Channing Frye returning from a scary heart condition that robbed him of the entire 2012-13 season. Frye is the Suns’ longest-tenured player, signed as a free agent way back in 2009, before current general manager Ryan McDonough had celebrated his 30th birthday.

The Suns’ starting five includes two players from last season: P.J.Tucker and Goran Dragic to go with Frye, Miles Plumlee and star-in-the-making Eric Bledsoe.

And here they are, a team that figured to lose games at a rapid rate is 5-2 and leading the Pacific Division. So how is it possible for an organization that hired a new GM, hired a new coach, cleaned house and then traded its talented starting center Marcin Gortat to Washington a week before the season started (for an injured one who might not play at all) to have already secured one-fifth of its win total from all of last season?

(more…)

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: Starting Clips Didn’t Defend The Arc

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 Los Angeles Clippers, who have as bright a season outlook as they’ve ever have.

The basics
LAC Rank
W-L 56-26 t-5
Pace 93.6 19
OffRtg 107.7 4
DefRtg 101.0 9
NetRtg +6.7 4

The stat

41.6 percent - Clippers opponent 3-point percentage with Willie Green and Caron Butler on the floor together last season.

The context

That 3-point defense would have ranked last in the league by far, almost three percentage points worse than the Bobcats. But with neither Green nor Butler on the floor, Clippers opponents shot just 33.3 percent from 3-point range, a mark that would have ranked second in the league, only behind the Pacers.

As the starting wings, Green and Butler were defending better shooters (and better shot creators) than their second-unit teammates. But 41.6 percent is pretty awful and overall, the Clips ranked 26th in 3-point defense, a number that held them back from being as good as they could have been. Their opponents shot a remarkable 45.4 percent from 3-point range in their 26 losses.

Clippers opponent 3-point shooting

On floor Opp3PM Opp3PA Opp3PT%
Butler + Green 151 363 41.6%
1 of the 2 210 521 40.3%
At least 1 361 884 40.8%
Neither 266 798 33.3%
Total 627 1,682 37.3%

The Clippers basically had two different teams last season, a starting lineup that was great offensively and a bench that was much better defensively. Green and Butler weren’t the only defensive questions with the starters, of course. The first unit (with Green starting 60 games and Chauncey Billups starting 22) was below average as a whole, and the need for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to improve on that end was addressed in this space early last month. Without the bench bigs they had last season, the Clippers need their starting frontline to improve defensively if they’re going to contend for a championship.

But the departure of Butler and less playing time for Green (as long as J.J. Redick is healthier this season than Billups was last season) should also help. Green often got caught on screens and Butler often got caught ball-watching or over-helping, as some of these plays, from games where the Magic and Lakers combined to shoot 11-for-16 from 3-point range with Green and Butler on the floor, show…


The Clippers defended the basket well. Their opponents attempted just 30.9 percent of their shots from the restricted area, the fifth lowest rate in the league. And their opponents shot 59.7 percent there, the 11th lowest rate in the league. They actually ranked second in defending 2-point shots and were a top 10 defense overall.

But they can get better by not fouling so much – they ranked 29th in opponent free throw rate – and defending the 3-point line better.

Phoenix opponents shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range with Jared Dudley on the floor last year (there’s some Michael Beasley influence in those numbers), and Orlando/Milwaukee opponents shot 34.6 percent with Redick on the floor. Doc Rivers‘ Celtics, meanwhile, ranked in the top five in 3-point defense each of the last six seasons. So a new scheme and more focus on that end could make a big difference.

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

Too Much Or Too Little? Bucks’ Butler Walks Fine Line Late In Career

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Caron Butler still can do it. But can he still do it every night? Or, more realistically at this point, on as many nights as the Milwaukee Bucks seemingly are going to need?

When Butler landed in Milwaukee from Phoenix thanks largely to a “gentlemen’s agreement” trade to deliver him close to his roots in nearby Racine, Wis., it was a feel-good gesture. So good, in fact, that the news conference introducing him was held in his old high school gym.

Nostalgia’s nice; warm-and-fuzzies are better. But the real key for Butler and the Bucks is how much he’s able to plug a hole that – so deep into in his career, owing to the miles and the dings if not the years – looks to be rather sizeable.

New coach Larry Drew was being both complimentary and optimistic when he spoke of a role for Butler far more pivotal than what he had the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers. And he still is, considering Butler’s recent injury history (knee surgery in 2011, hand, back and elbow issues since).

“In fact, I’m counting on him having enough in the tank,” Drew said earlier this week in Chicago. “You look at the Clippers, they had a lot of guys they could go to for scoring. We’re counting on him a little different here because we do have a need at that ‘three’ spot and he’s a guy who can provide some scoring and some leadership.”

Drew looks at Butler and sees a relatively healthy body, which is more than the coach could say for a number of Bucks in the preseason. Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh all have missed time with injuries, and O.J. Mayo was out the other night for personal reasons. Milwaukee was punchless, trailing Chicago by 23 points by halftime while getting abused on the glass (28-10) at intermission.

Drew craves leadership within his locker room of role players and youngsters almost as much as he needs offense. At 33, as a half-duty player the past two seasons, Butler has been merely average (combined PER: 12.1) and he managed to play 78 games thanks in part to averaging a modest 24.1 minutes.

That’s why the 24 points Butler scored two nights later against New York in Green Bay, Wis., sparked skepticism same as his October nights of three, four and two points had; Butler logged 37 minutes against the Knicks, something he won’t be able to do – or at least, something it won’t be wise to ask – on a regular basis in 2013-14.

The injuries prompted Drew to use Butler some at power forward, clearly not home for the 6-foot-7, 217-pounder. That had something to do with the performances that looked off, as did Butler’s veterans prerogative this month while learning new coaches and teammates.

“I’ve been picking and choosing,” he said. “See what guys like doing out there. Some games I come out and I’ll be extremely aggressive and I have my scoring games. Some games I just play position and try to get other guys involved, and see ‘How do they play in certain situations?’

“Playing the ‘four’ position, I was more of a facilitator, swinging the ball from side to side and trying to get the offense to move a little bit, because we get stagnant at times.”

The Bucks need his experience and leadership, same as from fellow veterans Pachulia, Delfino and Luke Ridnour, but Drew will have to balance Butler along that line between too many and too few minutes. Overdo it and he might get hurt again. Under-utilize him and he won’t have the necessary impact. Either way, a veteran’s locker-room voice tends to rise and fall with his production on the floor.

“I feel like I can really help them with scoring,” Butler said, “And the more time out there, I think I’ll be really productive. Right now, playing ‘four’ because guys are down, it’s a little different. But I definitely can fill it up. Rhythm guy, I can score the ball. I’m just waiting for the opportunity.”

The Bucks want to provide it, but in just the right amount.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 134) Eastern Conference Preview Featuring Caron Butler

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Identifying the first four or five teams in the Eastern Conference regular season and eventual playoff pecking order is easy.

The two-time reigning champion Miami Heat lead a pack that also includes, in whatever order you’d like, the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.

Stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Paul George, David West, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce make the job a breeze.

Figuring out which teams will occupy those final three spots, however, can start a fierce debate some folks might not be ready to have with the start of the regular season just a few days away. Luckily, none of those timid souls reside here.

We couldn’t wait to get after it on Episode 134 of the Hang Time Podcast, our Eastern Conference Preview featuring our special guest Caron Butler of the Milwaukee Bucks.

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Butler Returns Home To Milwaukee, Late But No Leaded Bat Needed

 

RACINE, Wis. – When Caron Butler would be late coming home, when that tiny red flag meant that he likely was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, Mattie Claybrook sometimes would hop in the car and take matters into her own hands.

“I had a leaded bat,” Claybrook, mother of the 11-year NBA veteran, said Thursday. “I took it a few times, just to scare the kids. I used to go where I thought he would be with the other boys. They would say, ‘Your momma’s comin’, your momma’s comin’. So he would hide or duck, but I would find him. I’d make him come back home and run the other boys away from wherever they might be. I was trying to keep him straight and narrow.”

That big stick would rank Claybrook somewhere between Isiah Thomas‘ mother greeting gang recruiters at her front door with a shotgun and Derrick Rose‘s three older brothers shooing away bad guys as young “Pooh” ran between their home, their grandmother’s and the Murray Park playground.

But those are Chicago tales – Thomas’ on the city’s West Side, Rose’s to the south in the tough Englewood neighborhood. Butler’s street challenges played out 70 miles to the north, a city of about 79,000 people along Lake Michigan, about 20 miles south of Milwaukee.

Trouble doesn’t sweat demographics, though, and it found Butler at Hamilton Park, a gathering site of idle time and ill intentions where Butler claims to have made his first drug sale at age 11. His newspaper route, getting him up and out long before he was supposed to be in school, provided perfect cover for the bad path onto which Butler had strayed. Back in 2008, during the third and most successful of Butler’s six NBA stops so far, Michael Lee of the Washington Post wrote about that path:

Butler received newspapers at 3:30 each morning, delivered them and then hit the corner of 18th and Howe to sell crack before the sun rose.

“You can take a kid to school all day; he’s in school for eight hours, he [doesn't] see the immediate impact,” Butler said. “You can stay out [on the corner] for four, five hours and make $1,500.”

By his estimation, Butler appeared in juvenile court 15 times by age 15. He served stints at two correctional institutions and had friends who were gunned down in the street. He narrowly avoided doing serious time himself when police found crack cocaine in the garage of the house where he and his family were living.

But basketball was speaking to Butler too, at the Bray and Bryant community centers in Racine, at Washington Park High and eventually at the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine. He had been steered there by Jameel Ghuari of the Bray Center, Butler’s AAU coach and, over time, his mentor. That’s where Butler finished school and attracted the attention of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.

The rest, as they say, is history. Butler starred for two seasons with the Huskies and was picked 10th in the 2002 Draft by Miami, his first NBA stop. He spent a year with the Lakers after being dealt in the Heat’s trade for Shaquille O’Neal, made the East All-Star team twice in four-plus seasons with the Wizards, then joined Dallas in February 2010.

He was part of the Mavericks squad that beat Miami for the 2011 NBA title but he was a spectator, too, after rupturing his right patellar tendon in January of that season. The Clippers signed Butler out of rehab to a three-year, $24 million free-agent contract, and he averaged 11.1 points in 26.6 minutes the past two seasons.

And now, he’s home, acquired by Milwaukee last week for guard Ish Smith and center Viacheslav Kravtsov from Butler’s temporary stop in Phoenix (he was part of the Eric Bledsoe-Jared Dudley-J.J. Redick transaction in July). On Thursday, that meant a combination news conference-welcome event-pep rally for Butler in the fieldhouse at Park High. Students filled the bleachers at one end of the big gym, while family and extended family beamed from seats on the floor.

It wasn’t just safe for Butler to be back in Racine Thursday. It was proper.

“I’m not going to let you guys down,” Butler, 33, told them all. The event barely had begun and already his voice was growing thick, his eyes turning red. He ticked off thanks to a long list of folks and called the Bucks “a contending team.”

“I’m a little emotional,” Butler said. “I always am – y’all see me crying at press conferences all the time. But this is a different emotion now because this is a dream come true. This is something … I never thought it would happen.”

Two years ago, Milwaukee and Chicago both were possible destinations for Butler until the Clippers’ fat offer settled that. This time, a call from Butler to his mother brought it home.

“I started screaming and shouting and jumping all around the house like a little kid,” Claybrook said. “I said, ‘Thank you, God, in the name of Jesus’ about 20 times. I was so overwhelmed, so blessed.”

For the Bucks, adding Butler was the latest and nearly final move in a summer full of them. Fourteen of the 18 players who suited up for them in 2012-13 are gone. The roster has 11 new faces, including Butler, O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and others, to be knitted into a team by a new head coach, Larry Drew.

For all the turnover, there still was a hole at small forward, which meant either overloading Delfino’s minutes or playing someone from the big-heavy front line out of position. Now Butler might start, with general manager John Hammond persuaded that the veteran’s recent spate of injuries (the knee in 2011, a broken hand in 2012, back and elbow issues last season) won’t scuttle that plan.

“I don’t think he’s made many concessions [to age or injury],” Hammond said. “I think he wants to do more – we don’t have Chris Paul or Blake Griffin like the Clippers do. … I talked to [Dallas coach] Rick Carlisle about Caron and he said, ‘I’ve never seen a guy work as hard as Caron did to come back from that [knee] injury.’ “

Hammond did those sort of background checks years ago on Butler, too, prior to the 2002 draft when the word “criminal” still was floating around. After 11 NBA seasons, that has been replaced entirely by praise for Butler’s character, personality and charity in the cities where he has played and, of course, in Racine.

“I always wanted to prove people wrong,” Butler said. “Everybody put this stigma on you like ‘You’re not going to make it’ or ‘You can’t do it because…’ “

“Always,” in his case, being from about age 16, anyway.

“I just always wanted to prove doubters wrong. and be a good example for the kids that watch me. My children, children in my family,” the father of four said. “Because the examples that I had, the role models, were different people, people who were running the streets doing different things.

“It’s real rewarding to see people say, ‘I look up to you. Because you did that, I feel I can do this.’ That’s special to me and means a lot.”

There was a fieldhouse full of people telling Butler that Thursday. He had joked that the Bucks, the high school and the neighbors couldn’t hold the news conference “at 18th and Mead,” on the corner of Hamilton Park. But in a way, they did.

Clips’ Hopes Of Contending Depends On Defense Of Jordan, Griffin

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that won 17 straight games and finished with the league’s fifth-best record last season, made some upgrades this summer in an effort to turn themselves into true title contenders.

On the bench, Vinny Del Negro was replaced by Doc Rivers. And in the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler were replaced by J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

But if the Clippers are to compete for a championship this season, they will need improvement from within, specifically with starting big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who will need to make up for some lost defense on the bench.

L.A.’s bench delivered

One thing that gets overlooked in the Clippers’ rehaul is that they had an excellent second unit last season. Their starters were terrific, but they suffered little drop-off when they went to their bench.

Clippers efficiency, 2012-13

Lineups MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
*Starting lineups 982 91.9 112.8 103.4 +9.5 +181
Other lineups 2,960 94.2 106.0 100.2 +5.8 +348
Total 3,942 93.7 107.7 101.0 +6.7 +529

* Paul, Butler, Griffin, Jordan and either Billups or Green
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Clippers’ starting unit was ridiculously good offensively, but slightly below average defensively. And though their bench struggled to score (it basically depended on Jamal Crawford‘s one-on-one ability), it still built on leads because it was so good on D.

In general, bench units are going to be better defensively than starting units because they’re going against other reserves. But the Clippers’ second most used lineup in the regular season, comprised of all reserves, was the third-best defensive unit in the league (minimum of 200 minutes played).

Three members of that unit are gone. Eric Bledsoe is in Phoenix, Ronny Turiaf is in Minnesota, and Lamar Odom is in NBA limbo as he deals with whatever off-court issues he has.

The importance of Odom

Here’s the thing about Odom last season. He was a disaster offensively (and was the season before that), but was a big part of the Clippers’ defensive improvement. L.A. went from 20th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to ninth last season. Their bench — particularly the big men — provided the strongest D.

In 821 minutes with Odom on the floor with either Turiaf or Ryan Hollins, the Clips allowed less than 91 points per 100 possessions. That’s elite defense no matter who the opponent is. No two-man combination in the league that played at least 450 minutes together had a lower on-court DefRtg than Odom and Turiaf.

On-court efficiency, Clippers big man combinations (min. 100 minutes)

Combination GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Griffin + Jordan 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Griffin + Odom 66 502 105.7 97.9 +7.8 +114
Odom + Turiaf 53 479 100.0 91.0 +9.0 +56
Odom + Hollins 41 343 111.4 90.8 +20.6 +118
Odom + Jordan 34 166 99.3 104.6 -5.3 -16
Turiaf + Hollins 32 148 85.6 104.7 -19.1 -45
Griffin + Hollins 26 133 106.1 111.5 -5.4 -13

Why Jordan, Griffin must improve

The Clippers’ starting lineup — with Willie Green at the two — was one of the best offensive lineups in the league. Although Jordan can’t shoot at all and Griffin’s mid-range jumper still needs work, that unit scored at a rate better than the Heat’s No. 1 offense. No lineup that was on the floor for nearly as much time scored as efficiently, and great offense can make up for mediocre defense, especially in the regular season.

But there are reasons why Griffin and Jordan need to get better defensively …

1. In the postseason, it’s better to be a great defensive team than a great offensive team. Over the last 12 seasons, 23 of the 24 teams that have reached The Finals have ranked in the top 10 defensively and 15 of the 24 have ranked in the top five defensively. Only 17 of the 24 have ranked in the top 10 offensively and only eight of the 24 have ranked in the top five offensively.

2. Odom and Turiaf have been replaced by Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, two defensive liabilities (to put it lightly). The Clips’ bench won’t be nearly as good defensively as it was last season. If L.A. wants to remain in the top 10 on that end of the floor, the starters must make up for the drop-off.

3. The Clippers were just awful defensively in the playoffs, allowing the Grizzlies — who ranked 18th offensively in the regular season — to score almost 110 points per 100 possessions over six games. The only team that was worse defensively last postseason was the short-handed Lakers, who got trounced by San Antonio.

How Memphis exposed L.A.’s bigs

The problems in that series started with the Clippers’ inability to force turnovers and continued with their inability to keep the Grizzlies off the foul line.

Clippers defense, 2012-13

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Reg. sea. 46.8% 6 37.3% 26 73.5% 15 17.2% 1 .306 29
Playoffs 48.5% 9 32.5% 5 73.3% 12 11.3% 15 .451 16

DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Though it was a slow-paced series, the Grizzlies — a team not known for getting to the line — attempted over 34 free throws per game, 13 more than they averaged in the regular season. They shot better than 50 percent from the field in two of their wins, but 38 trips to the line in allowed them to be nearly as efficient in Game 3, when they shot just 39 percent.

All five L.A. bigs averaged at least six fouls per 48 minutes in the series, with Hollins and Turiaf totaling an incredible 24 fouls in just 96 minutes. Griffin fouled out of Game 1 and committed five fouls in Game 3. Jordan had three fouls in just 17 minutes in that same Game 3.

The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is a tough matchup for any frontline. But the Clipper bigs got worked over, especially in the post …



Where Jordan and Griffin can improve

Griffin and Jordan aren’t terrible defenders. They both rank as “very good” on pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And when it came to rotations and team defense, Butler was a bigger liability in that starting lineup. L.A. was better defensively with Barnes at small forward with the other starters.

But the bigs aren’t great and their defensive focus and energy comes and goes. When guarding a big who faces up in the post, they often fail to contest his jumper or bite on his pump fake. And though they might contain an initial pick-and-roll, they don’t necessarily bring the second and third efforts needed against an offense that knows how to execute …


Both Odom and Turiaf ranked higher on pick-and-roll D and on post defense, where Griffin and Jordan rated as just “good” by Synergy in the regular season … and “poor” in the playoffs. The Grizzlies scored 69 points on 61 post-ups against the pair over the six games.

Overall, the Griffin-Jordan combo just didn’t measure up defensively to the big man pairings on other Western Conference contenders …

On-court efficiency, starting bigs, West playoff teams

Combination (Team) GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Duncan + Splitter (SAS) 60 819 106.0 92.7 +13.3 +208
Randolph + Gasol (MEM) 74 1,923 102.6 95.5 +7.1 +322
Ibaka + Perkins (OKC) 76 1,721 109.8 98.0 +11.8 +349
Faried + Koufos (DEN) 79 1,235 106.7 101.9 +4.8 +126
Bogut + Lee (GSW) 31 720 106.7 103.0 +3.7 +50
Griffin + Jordan (LAC) 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Gasol + Howard (LAL) 46 994 103.5 104.2 -0.7 -19
Patterson + Asik (HOU) 46 797 108.3 104.8 +3.6 +78

The Clippers will again be competing with the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies, three teams with bigs they can count on defensively. The Rockets have (a healthier) Dwight Howard and the Warriors could have a healthy Andrew Bogut.

Rivers was the coach of the league’s best defensive team of the last six seasons, and this team will likely be the best offensive one he’s ever led. But he’s not bringing Kevin Garnett with him from Boston.

The tools are there for Griffin and Jordan to improve. They have as much athleticism and mobility as any frontline in the league. But it takes a lot more than that to be an elite defender.

Jordan spoke about being a better communicator earlier this summer, and that’s a step in the right direction. But discipline, focus and sustained effort must also be priorities.

The Clips don’t need either guy to turn into Garnett. But if they’re to be included as one of the West teams that could be in The Finals next June, their starting bigs need to go from good to great defensively … especially since they won’t have as much help from their back-ups.

Butler Embraces Leading Suns, Beasley

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Eric Bledsoe, the 23-year-old point guard brimming with star potential, won the headlines in the Phoenix Suns’ July trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. But it might be the veteran in the deal, 33-year-old forward and by far the club’s elder statesmen, Caron Butler, who proves most valuable in this important transitional season for a franchise on the skids.

Troubled power forward Michael Beasley is the poster child for everything that’s gone wrong in Phoenix. He was a disgrace on the floor last season, his first after the Suns’ former front-office decision-makers gift-wrapped him a three-year, $18-million contract, and continues to be an embarrassment off it.

Investigated for sexual assault in May, Beasley was arrested two weeks ago when officers detected pot after pulling him over for speeding. The franchise has not publicly addressed this latest disappointment. The fact is they have two choices: Wipe their hands of him and eat the remaining $9 million he’s guaranteed, or somehow try to help the self-destructive former No. 2 pick, just 24, whose career, and potentially a life outside of prison, is hanging by the threads of a frayed shoelace.

“I think there’s a lot that can be done to help him and I think one is, and this is not from the organization or anything, but it’s just for the people who are around him and love him most, is just don’t give up on him, try to help him as much as possible, build him up because he’s a star,” Butler told NBA.com during a phone interview from his new home in Phoenix. “He’s a guy that had an unbelievable collegiate career, who came into the NBA as a top-two pick, so the talent is there, it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s like clay, it just needs to be molded right. Somebody needs to be around him, talking to him and telling him the right things and building him up and keeping nothing but positive energy around him and moving him forward instead of pulling him back.”

Butler, a raging success story born out of an unsavory childhood, was arrested numerous times before he turned 15. He said if if the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Beasley remains with the team, Butler will stick by the Beasley’s side and mentor him.

“I would stay in his ear, I would definitely stay in his ear,” Butler said. “I would continue to motivate him and I would challenge him night-in and night-out, in practice, just whatever I can do to make him better I would do as a human being, and obviously as a basketball player because I think he has tremendous upside still. He’s just 24 years old.”

It’s hardly the role the 6-foot-7 small forward envisioned prior to July 10. Butler was at his offseason home in Washington D.C. with his wife and three young daughters when he received a phone call from his agent. He had been traded. Only a couple of weeks earlier Butler was ecstatic at the news that the Clippers had pulled off the deal to nab Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a move that would cinch Chris Paul‘s return and fire up championship hype. Then came the unsuspecting call from his agent that he and Bledsoe were headed to the 25-win Suns.

Butler soon saw the news on the crawl on TV. No one from the Clippers’ front office has called him, Butler said.

“I don’t leave with bitterness or anything, but a phone call would have helped the situation,” said Butler, who two summers ago signed a three-year, $24 million free-agent deal to play for the Clippers before the club’s fortuitous, franchise-changing trade for CP3. “But it’s cool, it’s no hard feelings because that’s the nature of the business.

“It’s a fun team to watch,” Butler continued. “Up-and-down tempo, you look at the high flyers of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and you’ve got a magician with the ball in Chris Paul. You got shooters around them, you got J.J. Redick, and a great coach and a great coaching staff. You look at that and that’s real appealing, and that’s Hollywood.”

With that potential storybook season fading to black, Butler quickly moved his family to Phoenix where he’s been working out in preparation for the start of training camp roughly still five weeks away. In July, he spent a week in Las Vegas during the NBA’s Summer League with a handful of veterans, including Andre Iguodala, participating an NBA Players Association leadership program. The intensive course ran eight hours a day and provided players who might have front-office aspirations with a comprehensive look inside the business, from the fine print of the collective bargaining agreement to formulating scouting reports on teams and players.

The week in Vegas also provided Butler a chance to have dinner with his new coach, Jeff Hornacek, and to mingle with — and scout — several of his new teammates that played on the summer team (one of his leadership program assignments was to scout the Suns players and coaches during a game), including Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, P.J. TuckerKendall Marshall and promising draft pick Archie Goodwin.

“I just saw a lot of potential,” said Butler, who slyly deferred when asked for his summation of Hornacek’s performance: “I can’t share that.”

So this new chapter isn’t CP3, Griffin, Doc and the Lob City thrill show he expected in the final year of his contract. But then Butler seems to possess a deeper perspective as he prepares for his 12th season with a sixth team.

“I look at it as a situation in which I look at my life, I look at my timeline, and one, a lot of people didn’t even have me here [in the NBA], and a lot of people didn’t have me here this long,” said Butler, who averaged 10.4 ppg last season and will likely see his career-low 24.1 mpg rise in Phoenix. “And to have the success that I have and still maintain my humbleness and still be the person that I am, that speaks volumes.

“So whatever comes my way, I take it in stride and I just keep moving forward. So it is what it is and I’m going to make the best out of the situation that I’m in now.”

And just maybe the Suns organization is hopeful that Beasley can learn from a man who has walked in shoes not much different from his own.

Beasley Will Walk Thin Line With New Suns

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Ryan McDonough, the 33-year-old rookie general manager of the Phoenix Suns has been on the job for some 80 days and already he’s showing some moxie.

Since drawing some blank stares as if his pick of Maryland big man Alex Len at No. 5 was a desert mirage while Kentucky 7-foot center Nerlens Noel, long projected to go No. 1, or Kansas scoring guard Ben McLemore stood in plain view, McDonough has now begun to rattle the thin roster he inherited.

He turned solid, if unspectacular, guard-forward Jared Dudley and a second-round draft pick into potential All-Star-quality guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler. Now, McDonough is on the verge of unloading fast-declining forward Luis Scola, an ill-fit in new coach Jeff Hornacek‘s favored up-tempo offense, in a trade with Indiana that will reportedly net lanky and athletic journeyman Gerald Green and project center Miles Plumlee, plus a lottery-protected first-round pick.

Not that those trades will launch the Suns into playoff contention, but the additions fill two key areas on McDonough’s list as he remakes the roster: athleticism and a fundamental work ethic. Which delivers us to the doorstep of the one player on the roster [note: my speculation only] McDonough would love to jettison if only he could: Michael Beasley.

Asked during the Las Vegas Summer League if he believes the always tantalizing, but troublesome 6-9, 235-pound power forward can be a positive force during this important transitional season, McDonough answered with a team-wide message — one that should resonate loudest between Beasley’s ears.

“I guess what I’ll say generally about that is we’re going to treat everybody the same,” McDonough said. “There won’t be any special treatment for anybody on the roster and as Jeff [Hornacek] and I told all the guys coming in, we don’t care how much money you’re making, where you were drafted, how long you’ve been in the league, what, if anything, you’ve been promised in the past. We’re going into this as an open competition, and when training camp comes, guys who buy in and play the right way and play hard will play, and those who don’t, won’t.”

In a league brimming with bright, young talent, Beasley, 24, has been far more raging headache than headstrong virtually since the day the Miami Heat drafted him second overall in 2008. Last summer, inexplicably, the gracious Suns, Beasley’s third team, handed him a three-year, $18 million deal. Still, Beasley ignored the cue that this was his big shot at a second chance, an opportunity to turn around his selfish and tiresome act, as well as his floundering career.

Former Suns coach Alvin Gentry benched the unproductive Beasley last season in fourth quarters as early as December, and finally stripped him of his starting job. Following the fired Gentry, interim coach Lindsey Hunter had no answers for Beasley’s inattention to defense or just about anything else.

Imagine if the Chicago Bulls had selected Beasley No. 1 over Derrick Rose? The Heat at No. 2 could have drafted No. 4 Russell Westbrook, No. 5 Kevin Love, No. 6 Danilo Gallinari, No. 7 Eric Gordon or No. 10 Brook Lopez.

If Beasley doesn’t answer this wake-up call, he won’t be afforded another chance. He is fortunate the NBA is not the non-guaranteed-contract world of the NFL, where a player can be cut and his contract flushed in a moment’s notice. It’s the only reason he has a job today.

Beasley averaged career lows across the board last season. His poor play and worse attitude drained a club that was already outmanned on most nights. But it’s not just on the court that Beasley will be expected to reform. His inability to stay out of hot water off remains troublesome. In May, police were investigating Beasley in connection with a report of sexual assault at his home.

The 2013-14 Suns will need a lot to come together fast to contend for the eighth seed. But under Hornacek’s guidance and with blue-collar players like P.J. Tucker along with twins Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris — all three of whom played on the Suns’ summer-league squad — and the additions of the up-and-coming Bledsoe and a tough-minded, respected veteran like Butler, Phoenix will play hard.

Beasley will either take this last, flashing-neon-sign-of-a-hint that his career is on the line, or, as McDonough said, he won’t.