Posts Tagged ‘David Lee’

Without Westbrook, Ibaka Keeps Soaring

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka talks about OKC’s winning ways on Arena Link

OKLAHOMA CITY – How many Western Conference power forwards do you check off before getting to Serge Ibaka?

Blake Griffin. Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge. Dirk Nowitzki. Tim Duncan. Anthony Davis. Zach Randolph. David Lee. Hard to quibble. All are All-Stars, recent past or present.

“There [are] so many good power forwards, and so many good point guards, in the West that he does kind of get lost in the shuffle,” Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But we understand what he brings to our team. He’s definitely [at] an All-Star level in my eyes and what he does for our team: He rebounds, he blocks shots, he alters shots, his rebounds have gone up, his shooting percentage is high, his points have gone up.”

Ibaka is also only 24 years old, which makes his progression to a career-best 15.0 ppg (11th in the league among power forwards), career-best 8.8 rpg (8th), 2.5 bpg (2nd) and 19 double-doubles (10th) midway through his fifth season seem astronomical, and his potential off the charts. That the chiseled, 6-foot-10 force of nature, taken 24th in the 2008 Draft (his first NBA season was 2009-10), is under contract with the Thunder through the 2016-17 season at a rate that never eclipses $12.35 million is another feather in management’s already blooming cap.

Ibaka and Russell Westbrook have developed such a lethal connection that when the point guard left the lineup after the Christmas Day game to undergo a third surgery on his right knee, there was some trepidation that Ibaka’s offensive contributions would suffer.

That has not occurred because Ibaka and Kevin Durant have been terrific together. Durant’s has assisted on one-third of (54-for-160) Ibaka’s baskets since Westbrook went down. Since, Ibaka has averaged 15.9 ppg on 56.7-percent shooting.

“We have a better connection in the halfcourt offense,” Ibaka said of he and Durant whereas he and Westbrook work so well together in the open floor. “He has confidence in me. I know when he is going to pass to me. I just have to catch the ball. My first part of this is I owe it to him to get him open, so when he can get open, the defense starts to go to him, so then I know, ‘OK, now it’s my turn.’ I am going to get open and I know he is going to pass it to me, so I am going to make plays for myself and for my teammates.”

Ibaka’s midrange game continues to be one of the best in the league. He is hitting 47.8 percent of his shots taken outside the paint and inside the 3-point arc. Coming off a screen, Durant typically gets doubled and he finds Ibaka for the pick-and-pop jumper he loves from the top of the circle, or Ibaka rolls to the basket, an aspect of his game Brooks says has vastly improved.

“When he does roll, he’s ready to catch and finish right away and he’s seeing the pickers much quicker,” Brooks said.”That sounds easy and looks easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that. You have to be able to catch the ball on the fly and put yourself in a position not to get a charge and, if there is a guy, you have to make sure you make the right pass, and you have to do that all within a second.

“He’s understanding, with all the work that we’ve put him through in practice to simulate those opportunities, and I think it’s really paying off.”

Ibaka’s true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) is 54.0 percent, fourth-best among power forwards behind Amir Johnson, Kenneth Faried and Boris Diaw. But Ibaka averages, at the minimum, four more shots per game and almost five more points per game.

According to NBA.com/stats, Ibaka is connecting on 49.2 percent of his shots from 10-14 feet; 46.3 percent from 15-19 feet; and 38.9 percent from 20-24 feet. He’s 13-for-37 for 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, a percentage plenty of guards could live with.

So, what happens when Westbrook returns as he is scheduled to do after the All-Star break? Ibaka smiles.

“I am going to have Russ and I am going to have Kevin,” Ibaka said. “We are going to be more dangerous. You know, Russ is more go-go, ‘I’m open;’ me and Kevin [are] more halfcourt. I think it is going to be great, man. I can’t wait to have Russ back. I can’t wait.”

Expect Dirk To Get 12th All-Star Nod


VIDEO: Dirk has 28 points and nine boards as the Mavs stop the Pistons

DALLAS – In his final game Sunday night before the Western Conference coaches head to their bunkers to select seven All-Star reserves, Dirk Nowitzki left them with one of those vintage performances that this season has spawned the phrase, “He’s still Dirk.”

“Twenty-eight points in 32 minutes,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, glancing over the 10-for-16 shooting, the nine rebounds and the four assists. “I guess he’s an All-Star.”

Is he? That is the question.

“This year [I’m] right up there, and we understand there’s always going to be some guys that deserve it and don’t make it, so that’s just the nature of the game,” Nowitzki said after raising his averages to 21.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg in a win over Detroit. “The power forward spot in the West has always been loaded and somebody is going to feel like they’ve been snubbed, but that’s just part of the game.”

The power forward position, plus a couple centers tossed into the new “frontcourt” designation, is loaded with young, thriving talent. The three starters voted in by the fans are 25 (Kevin Durant and Kevin Love) and 24 (Blake Griffin). Two sure-fire reserves, Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge are both 28. On-the-bubble candidates DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are 23 and 20, respectively. Serge Ibaka, 24, almost gets lost in the discussion because of the superstar teammates who overshadow him. David Lee, an All-Star last season, is like the older brother of the group at 30.

Nowitzki, 35, and Tim Duncan, 37, are like the godfathers. The West coaches put Duncan back on the All-Star team last season after his 13-year run was snapped in 2012, and seemed over for good. Knee surgery during training camp last season sabotaged Dirk’s 11-year run. Now there’s likely room for only one, if that, legendary old-timer on the 12-man squad.

Have fun, coaches. The reserves for both conferences will be announced Thursday night on TNT.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player, as we all know,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is prohibited from voting for his own player, and would seem a prime candidate to give Dirk, his decades-long nemesis, the nod. “Dirk basically — modern times so to speak — has really personified that stretch-4 because he scored from everywhere on the court and from distance … and he hasn’t slowed down much, if at all.”

Prevailing wisdom suggests this is Dirk’s — and Duncan’s — best chance to add one last All-Star appearance considering the aforementioned list of bursting, young talent. Dirk, who ranks seventh among forwards in usage percentage and fifth in true shooting percentage, might still have a few more fine seasons left in him beyond this one, just as Duncan has proved post-35, but the next generation will likely be too strong and push him out of All-Star consideration.

Dirk’s edge this season is lifetime achievement. How heavily will coaches weigh career milestones? Likely heavily. He’s surged up the NBA’s all-time scoring list, starting the season at No. 18 and passing Reggie Miller and Jerry West, among others, to move all the way up to No. 13. He’s 412 points from passing John Havlicek for 12th and it’s possible he will catch Oscar Robertson at No. 10 by season’s end.

Dirk recently collected the 1,000th steal of his career and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone as the only players with 25,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,000 steals.

“I’ve looked at it pretty closely,” Carlisle said. “He’ll make it. I just have the feeling that he will. You look at his stats, what he’s carrying, the production and the minutes; if he was playing the minutes most of those guys were playing, he’d be a 25-point scorer. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.”

Dirk didn’t think he deserved a spot on the 2012 squad after a slow start to the shortened lockout season. But the coaches weren’t about to let the Finals MVP be swept out of the All-Star Game that easily. They won’t this year either, especially when he’s not exactly a hardship case. In fact, if he does’t make the team, it will be a first of sorts. Five players 35 or older — Malone, Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and Alex English — have averaged 21 points or more in 11 different seasons. Each time they made the All-Star team.

When his streak did end last season, Nowitzki had little control over it. His right knee required the first surgery of his career during training camp. He missed the first 27 games of the season, probably came back too soon to help save a sinking season and didn’t regain his All-Star form until the second half.

Fending off Father Time (with an eye on a semi-concerning sleeve he again donned on his left knee), Nowitzki has shouldered another near-totally retooled roster to a 26-20 record, good for the last playoff spot in the ultra-competitive West. The Mavs, while inconsistent, not unlike like Nowitzki’s shooting performances, are just 1.5 games behind No. 6 Golden State and three games back of No. 5 Houston, a so-called contender Dallas will attempt to defeat for a third time in four tries at home Wednesday night.

“They still have that big guy from Germany. He’s pretty good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier this month. “And when you have a player like that, you can put a lot of people around him and they’re going to be better. That’s the effect of a Dirk on your team. I bet Monta’s never seen open shots that he’s seen when you come off a pick and roll with Dirk setting it, so he does make you better.”

Monta Ellis would agree. A fringe All-Star candidate himself, Ellis is averaging 19.2 ppg, about what he averaged last season with Milwaukee, but his 46.2 shooting percentage blows away last season’s mark and is at its highest since 2007-08 with Golden State. He’s finding wide lanes to drive and open jumpers to fire thanks to the defensive attention Dirk draws and the spacing he brings.

How dependent are the Mavs on Dirk? With him and Ellis on the floor, they’re averaging a potent 109.1 points per 100 possessions. With only Ellis on the floor, it drops to 102.7.

Dirk’s net rating of 4.0 is easily the highest among Dallas’ starters, a group in which only center Sam Dalembert (1.6) and Jose Calderon (0.2) also boast positive net ratings.

So is Dirk an All-Star? Bet on the coaches granting him the grand stage, if not for one last hurrah, and leaving the lure of a February beach vacation for the years ahead.

“It always means something to be among the best 12 or 13 players in the West,” Nowitzki said. “It has always been an honor. I’ve always had fun going there and representing the Mavericks the right way — but, I did have some fun at the beach last year, too. Either way, I’ll be happy to go, obviously, and always represent the Mavericks. And if not, then I’ll find something else to do.”

Continuity Now A Strength For USA Basketball

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – USA Basketball announced its pool of 28 players that will make up the rosters for the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. The roster, which includes 11 of the 12 players from the 2012 Olympic gold medalists (Kobe Bryant is the only exception), can be seen below.

Some things to know about the roster:

  • Note the word “initial” in the press release. Names could certainly be added to the roster between now and 2016. Players get hurt and have things that come up and keep them from participating. Also, there are no rookies or college kids on the list, and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo may want to bring a couple of young guys into the fold down the line.
  • Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have committed to play this summer in Spain.
  • The lack of continuity and stability were the USA’s weaknesses from 1998-2006, but have been strengths over the last several years. Even when the U.S. went to Turkey in 2010 with a new roster, the coaching staff was taking part in its fourth international competition and had a system in place. That coach Mike Krzyzewski is back for another run and so many players continue coming back is huge.
  • If the U.S. doesn’t win the World Cup later this year, they will have to participate in the FIBA Americas tournament in 2015 to qualify for the Olympics. After winning the Olympics in 2008, the World Championship in 2010, and the Olympics again in 2012, the U.S. has skipped the FIBA Americas tournament in 2009, ’11 and ’13.
  • If a player isn’t in the pool, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Colangelo and Krzyzewski didn’t want him. It’s possible that they asked and he declined.
  • Exactly half of the 28 players have experience in a major international competition. Blake Griffin was on the 2012 Olympic Team, but suffered a knee injury in training camp and was replaced by Anthony Davis. Colangelo often speaks of players earning “equity” with the program, so guys that have been on the roster before certainly have an advantage over those who haven’t.
  • Players’ NBA positions are listed below, but those aren’t necessarily their positions with the U.S. Team, which typically plays just one big man at a time and often has two point guards on the floor. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are power forwards, Love is a center, and Russell Westbrook is sometimes a small forward. The team wants to play fast and aggressive, especially on defense.
  • In 2008, ’10 and ’12, the team carried just three true bigs on the roster. There are 10 in the pool, including four with Olympic gold medals.
  • In addition to Bryant, active players with an Olympic or World Championship gold medal who are not in the pool: Chauncey Billups (2010), Carlos Boozer (2008), Chris Bosh (2008), Rudy Gay (2010), Eric Gordon (2010), Danny Granger (2010), Tayshaun Prince (2008) and Dwyane Wade (2008).
  • As noted by AP writer Brian Mahoney, the pool includes each of the top-10 scorers in the NBA. Also, Nos. 12 and 13.
  • Players who were at last summer’s mini-camp that aren’t on the roster: Ryan Anderson, Harrison Barnes, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Derrick Favors, Jrue Holiday, DeAndre Jordan, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ty Lawson, Greg Monroe, Chandler Parsons, Dion Waiters, Kemba Walker, John Wall and Tyler Zeller. It’s a testament to how deep the point guard position is that Conley, Holiday, Lawson and Wall aren’t in the pool. Rockets beat writer Jonathan Feigen tweeted Wednesday that Parsons was not happy about his exclusion.
  • The field for the 2014 World Cup of Basketball can be seen here. The four wildcard teams (there were 15 applicants) will be announced on Saturday, Feb. 1. Spain, playing at home, is obviously the U.S. Team’s biggest threat.

2014-16 Men’s National Team Roster

Player Team POS Height Age NBA Exp. National team experience
LaMarcus Aldridge POR F 6-11 28 8
Carmelo Anthony NYK F 6-8 29 11 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012
Bradley Beal WAS G 6-5 20 2
Tyson Chandler NYK C 7-1 31 13 2007, 2010, 2012
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 23 4
Stephen Curry GSW G 6-3 25 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP F-C 6-10 20 2 2012
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 20 2
Kevin Durant OKC F 6-9 25 7 2010, 2012
Kenneth Faried DEN F 6-8 24 3
Paul George IND F-G 6-9 23 4
Blake Griffin LAC F 6-10 24 4
James Harden HOU G 6-5 24 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA G-F 6-8 23 4
Dwight Howard HOU C 6-11 28 10 2006, 2007, 2008
Andre Iguodala GSW F-G 6-6 29 10 2010, 2012
Kyrie Irving CLE G 6-3 21 3
LeBron James MIA F 6-8 29 11 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012
Kyle Korver ATL G-F 6-7 32 11
David Lee GSW F 6-9 30 9
Kawhi Leonard SAS F-G 6-7 22 3
Damian Lillard POR G 6-3 23 2
Kevin Love MIN F-C 6-10 25 6 2010, 2012
Chris Paul LAC G 6-0 28 9 2006, 2008, 2012
Derrick Rose CHI G 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW G 6-7 23 3
Russell Westbrook OKC G 6-3 25 6 2010, 2012
Deron Williams BKN G 6-3 29 9 2007, 2008, 2012

Batum Says He’s Earned All-Star Nod


VIDEO: Nicolas Batum has 14 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 14 assists

DALLAS – Portland Trail Blazers do-it-all small forward Nicolas Batum readily admits that pal Tony Parker remains France’s No. 1 NBA heartthrob. Perhaps that gap will narrow a bit if Batum is selected to his first Western Conference All-Star team, an honor he says he would relish and, in all honesty, deserves.

NBA All-Star 2014His team’s 31-9 record, and his advanced stats suggest he is right.

“I look at all the small forwards in the West,” Batum told NBA.com Saturday night prior to putting up 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting with seven assists in a blowout win at Dallas. “You know, KD [Kevin Durant], is way up there, so can’t reach him he’s so far. But the West has to take a small forward after KD; I think it should be me. The West is crazy. I talked about it with Tony Parker two nights ago — I had dinner with him — that in the West, for a bench, to pick seven guys is pretty tough. KD is going to start at small forward, but I know if I get a chance to be on the bench to be a backup to KD, I would be very happy to do it.”

In his sixth season, the soft-spoken Frenchman is quietly having a sensational season playing on the league’s most potent offense. He’s averaging 13.4 ppg, scoring in a variety of ways, and posting career bests in rebounds (6.8 rpg) and assists (5.6 apg). His 46.1 field-goal percentage pales only to his second season in 2009-10 when he shot 51.9 percent, but played in only 37 games. He is shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc. His lanky frame and long arms help make him a sturdy defender who often checks the opponent’s top scorer.

On any given night, the 6-foot-8 Batum will post double-digit points or double-digit rebounds or double-digit assists. On some nights he might do it in two of the three categories, if not all three. He owns two triple-doubles this season, plus one points-rebounds double-double and one rebounds-assist double-double. On many nights he flirts with — at least — a double-double of some variety.

As for the All-Star Game, the West’s frontcourt is crowded with contenders, but the majority are power forwards such as Aldridge, Kevin Love, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis, as well as center DeMarcus Cousins.

Delving into the advanced stats reveals Batum’s all-around value to the Blazers as well as his worthiness for a coveted All-Star spot. Here’s how he ranks among the league’s forwards in key categories:

> 1st: In offensive rating (113.5 points team scores per 100 possessions with Batum on the floor)

> 4th: In net rating (10.2, the difference between offensive and defensive rating) behind his teammate Aldridge, Indiana’s David West and Golden State’s Lee)

> 4th: In true shooting percentage (59.2 percent, adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) behind Miami’s LeBron James, Oklahoma City’s Durant and Toronto’s Amir Johnson

> 4th: In effective field-goal percentage (55.5 percent, adjusted for 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than 2-pointers) behind James, Johnson and Houston’s Chandler Parsons

> 3rd: In assist percentage (21.9 percent, percent of teammates’ field goals that the player assisted) behind James and Durant

> 5th: Among small forwards in rebound percentage (10.3, percentage of total rebounds a player obtains while on the court) behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Dallas’ Shawn Marion, James and Durant

Not too shabby.

Here’s Batum in his own words:

NBA.com: You are a unique player in that you can fill up the stat sheet in a variety of ways. Is there a player you modeled your game after?

NB: When I grew up, my favorite player was Scottie Pippen. He was a guy that could do everything on the court, on offense and defense, and that’s what I love to do. I love to rebound, I love to assist, I love to score points, I love to play defense. I love to do everything on the court, so that’s what I try to do every night.

NBA.com: You said you would be happy to back up Durant on the West All-Star team. Do you believe you have earned the right to do so this season?

NB: I think so. I mean we’re winning, so if we’re winning games — we’re top three in the NBA — we should get at least two guys. I don’t think we’re going to get three guys, but Damian [Lillard] and L.A. will make it for sure.

NBA.com: Do you go into a game with an idea if you will attack as a scorer or facilitator?

NB: It depends on the flow of the game. When I come in and I see like is it going to be Damian’s night or Wesley [Matthews]? I don’t know if I’m going to have a triple-double every night, but if I can do it, I will do it.

NBA.com: So your goal every game is to shoot for a triple-double?

NB: Yeah. if I get like a 14 [points], 10 rebounds, 11 assists, that’s my kind of night. I don’t think I can average a triple-double, I’m not saying that, but I am the type of guy that can do the 14, 8 and 7 every night.

NBA.com: Why do you think more players aren’t as adept in filling up the stat sheet in a variety of ways?

NB: The system we do have helps me to do that. I know all the players I have around me. I know where they are, I watch a lot of video and I know who I am. I just know and read the game situation what I have to do. If I get 10 assists tonight, I get 10 assists. If I get 15, 20 points, that’s what I’m going to try to do. I just adjust my game to the other guys and the coach [Terry Stotts] told me that this season I am going to be the key to success.

NBA.com: It seems a good number of observers are waiting for the Blazers to flatten out a bit after such a first half of the season, or are still not yet ready to declare this team “for real.” Is this team built to continue at its current pace and challenge for the No. 1 spot in the West?

NB: We had a tough stretch at the end of December, beginning of January, like we lost four games out of six. But we knew we were going to go through tough times. The good thing on this team is we are, OK, we lost those four games, but we got back on track, we regrouped, we stayed together and now we’ve got a five-game winning streak. We know that this is the first time we’ve done this. OKC has been there, San Antonio’s been there. Last year we only had 33 wins and were like 11 or 12 in the West and now we are like No. 2 and we will be No. 1 if we win [Saturday]. So after 40 games people might be surprised or expect us to fall down, but we know who we are. We know what we’ve done to be in this position so far, so we are going to try to do the same thing.

If Wins Matter, Is Kevin Love Still An All-Star Slam Dunk?


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks about dealing with tough stretches on ‘Inside Stuff’

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – This post might embolden a pitch-forked mob to burn my basketball-writing credentials at the stake, but here goes: Don’t chalk up Kevin Love as an automatic Western Conference All-Star reserve just yet. Not as long as the West coaches who will select those reserves stick to the notion that winning matters.

NBA All-Star 2014Here’s Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle three years ago when asked if Tim Duncan deserved to be selected despite averaging career lows in points and rebounds in the first half of the 2010-11 season: “Those guys are 37-4 or something. You’ve got to take a strong look at that. That’s meaningful, that Duncan is on a team that’s winning every game. That’s a big deal, and it should be.”

Duncan made the squad at the expense of statistically better options that included Love (later picked as an injury replacement for Yao Ming), LaMarcus Aldridge and Zach Randolph. Coaches will again have to take a strong look at Duncan, 37, when they cast their votes (selections will be announced on Jan. 30).

Duncan’s stats — 14.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 1.97 bpg in 29.0 mpg — again pale next to those of his younger counterparts even though he’s essential to the Spurs sitting atop the West at 31-8.

The West’s frontcourt field is stacked. The starters, as voted by the fans (voting ends Monday), appear set: Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin (although Love was only about 17,000 votes behind Griffin for the third starting spot after last week’s third returns; Love being voted in would render this conversation moot). Coaches will select four frontcourt reserves from a deep pool that as of now includes Love, Duncan, Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and David Lee among a few others worthy of consideration (Nicolas BatumAndre Iguodala, Randolph?).

There will be quality snubs.

Love’s statistical credentials are spotless: 25.6 ppg (fourth in the league), 13.0 rpg (second), 4.0 apg (tied for first among power forwards) and 39.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc (10th overall) in 36.2 mpg. His presence, at least offensively, is essential: Minnesota’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) soars to 109.3 with him on the floor; without him it plummets to 93.0.

Love’s team, however, the thought-to-be playoff-ready Timberwolves, is a disheartening and seemingly unraveling group. At 18-20 they sit 11th in the West, four games out of the final playoff spot behind Nowitzki’s Mavericks. After a recent debacle of a home loss to Phoenix, Love publicly called out a pair of sulking teammates, a move that has been met with both praise and criticism.

Speaking of Nowitzki, how difficult will it be for coaches to pass on the NBA’s 13th leading all-time scorer who is averaging 21.4 ppg, is flirting with a 50-40-90 season and has his team playing mostly above expectations? Nowitzki’s 11-year All-Star run ended last season following preseason knee surgery. Aldridge and Batum have helped make the Blazers the NBA’s surprise team of the first half. An All-Star last year, Lee is averaging 19.2 ppg — shooting 52.8 percent — and 9.9 rpg on a top-five squad.

Like Love’s Wolves, Cousins’ Kings are on the wrong side of the win-loss coin, but the enigmatic center with the bad rep is having a monstrous season (one quite comparable to Love’s) — 23.4 ppg (49.6 FG%), 11.6 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.1 bpg in 32.4 mpg. Sacramento (14-23) got off to an awful start, but has played better of late, winning six of its last 10, including wins over Miami and Portland, and have just three more losses than the Wolves.

The Kings closed that gap Wednesday with a 111-108 win at Minnesota. Cousins had 20 and 11 with five turnovers. Love had 27 and 11 with five assists. Cousins got the W.

Another intriguing point regarding Cousins’ chances for a first All-Star appearance: Last year the NBA altered the ballot, scrapping the traditional positional breakdown of guard, forward and center to simply backcourt and frontcourt to reflect the lack of true centers in today’s game. Under the old format, would not Cousins be a shoo-in as the backup center?

Love’s statistics scream All-Star. His team has been a dud. In a season in which the player field is so competitive, and if team wins are truly weighted as significant, the West coaches will be faced not with a slam dunk vote for Love, but rather embroiled in a most difficult process of elimination.

Warriors Run Out Of Gas Against Nets Before They Can Make History

VIDEO: Nets snuff out Warriors

NEW YORK – No team in NBA history had ever swept a road trip of seven games or more.

There’s a reason for that, and for why that bit of trivia still applies after Wednesday’s game in Brooklyn. Playing seven road games in a row is really hard.

The Golden State Warriors made it through six straight wins – including a victory in Miami last Thursday – but didn’t have enough gas in the tank to get win No. 7 on Wednesday, falling to the Brooklyn Nets, 102-98.

As much fun as it is to watch Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson launch 3s, to watch the second-best passing forward in the league, to watch David Lee‘s brilliance on the pick-and-roll, and to watch Andrew Bogut‘s craftiness inside, the Warriors’ 10-game winning streak and 19-3 record with both Curry and Andre Iguodala healthy was about defense.

During the streak, the Warriors scored 103.4 points per 100 possessions, a little over the league average for offensive efficiency. But they allowed just 93.3, a little over what the Indiana Pacers — the No. 1 defense in the league — have allowed this season. In the 22 games that Curry and Iguodala had played, they had allowed 94.9. Overall, they ranked fourth in defensive efficiency entering Wednesday’s action.

And it was on defense where fatigue affected them most in Brooklyn. The Warriors got off to a hot shooting start, held the Nets to just 16 points on their first 24 possessions of the night, and led by 16 late in the first quarter. But over the final 12 1/2 minutes of the first half, Brooklyn scored 43 points in 26 possessions.

The Warriors were a step slow on most possessions, two steps slow on others. Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston seemingly strolled to the rim on a few occasions. And really, as the Nets took a seven-point lead into halftime, it looked like the Warriors (and the streak) were done.

But they fought back, took the lead late in the third quarter, and went down to the wire. And again, they just didn’t have enough in the tank, shooting 1-for-8 (0-for-5 from 3-point range) in the final four minutes.

The Warriors’ lack of depth certainly contributed to their fatigue. Back-up guards Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore had an atrocious stretch in the second quarter, so Curry and Thompson played the entire second half. Curry led all scorers with 34 points, but went 0-for-8 from 3-point range after making his first two bombs in the first period.

And that’s the issue with the Warriors going forward. They’ve been terrific when they’ve been healthy, but their lack of a competent back-up for Curry could wear him down by April. So it’s no wonder they’d love to acquire Andre Miller or Kyle Lowry.

Still, a 6-1 trip is impressive. A top-five defense will win them a lot of games. A potent offense could help them deep in the playoffs. And the toughness they showed in Brooklyn on Thursday will help them in big spots down the line. Though the end-of-the-trip fatigue was obvious to any observer, the Warriors weren’t using it as an excuse.

“It’s a long road trip,” Curry said, “but we can’t let that be an excuse for how the game ended. We have to find a way to win.”

“Give them credit,” added head coach Mark Jackson. “They got in a rhythm, put us in tough situations with their pick-and-rolls, and they made plays.”

Indeed, the Nets deserve credit. They’re playing their best basketball of the season and have found some success with a small lineup. Now they have the longest winning streak in the league at four games. Three of the wins have come against teams with winning records and two have come without Deron Williams.

But this game was as much about the Warriors’ schedule as it was about how well the Nets have played in 2014. Seven games in seven cities over 11 days is rough, especially when the trip ends with a back-to-back in Milwaukee and Brooklyn.

“It was a frustrating way to end the streak,” Lee said, “but overall, a 6-1 road trip is very positive.”

Film Study: The Roll Of David Lee

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat entered Thursday’s game in Miami as top 10 defenses. Neither looked like one during a 123-114 victory for the Warriors, their seventh straight victory.

The Dubs got 36 points and some ridiculous shots from Stephen Curry. They also got 32 points and 14 rebounds from David Lee.

Lee had just three assists, but it was his ability to handle the ball out of the pick-and-roll that was a big key to chewing up the Heat’s aggressive defense to the tune of of 123 points on 101 possessions.

For the most part, Miami’s big men would stay with Curry as he came off Lee’s screens, and when Curry’s defender recovered, they had Curry trapped. Lee acted as a release valve for his point guard, and when he got the ball, the Warriors typically had a three-on-two situation on the weak side of the floor.

Here’s Lee with the ball on the Warriors’ fifth possession of the game …

20140102_lee_3on2

Shane Battier has chased Curry out to the left sideline and Mario Chalmers has recovered to his man, leaving Chris Bosh and LeBron James on the weak side to cover Lee, Andrew Bogut (in the paint) and Andre Iguodala (in the corner).

It seems pretty simple, but the key is having a big man who can provide a passing lane for his point guard, and then handle the ball well enough to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness.

Over the course of 48 minutes, the Heat switched up their coverages and the Warriors ran different wrinkles to keep Miami on its toes.

Here are six different pick-and-roll plays from Thursday night, all involving Lee and all resulting in a Golden State basket …

Play 1 – Attacking the 3-on-2

This is the play from the image above. Lee attacks that three-on-two situation and gets help from Bogut, who holds off Bosh.


VIDEO: David Lee attacks the 3-on-2 situation vs. Miami

Lee was 8-for-10 in the restricted area on Thursday.

Play 2 – Weak-side flash

Here, the Warriors run a Curry/Lee pick-and-roll from the side of the floor. When Battier and Chalmers trap Curry, it’s Bogut who acts as the release valve, flashing to the foul line from the weak-side block. The trap up top forced Bosh to try to defend both bigs, and he gets caught in the middle.


VIDEO: Andrew Bogut flashes from the foul line from the weak-side block

Play 3 – Taking the Heat off their game

At this point in the game, Lee had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting. The threat of the roll forces Bosh to make an adjustment on the high pick-and-roll, leaving Curry a lot earlier than usual in order to stay with his man. But Norris Cole doesn’t recover in time and Curry beats him to the basket.


VIDEO: Steph Curry gets a good look due to Norris Cole’s poor defensive recovery

Play 4 – Empty strong side

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Warriors run a pick-and-roll with nobody on the strong side of the floor. Bosh is back to blitzing Curry, who gets the ball back to Lee at the top of the key. As Lee attacks the paint, Curry doesn’t stop moving, leaving both Bosh and Cole in the dust. They have a two-on-one against Dwyane Wade‘s weak-side help and Curry gets a layup.


VIDEO: Curry gets a layup off of the Warriors’ two-on-one action

Play 5 – Curry off the ball

With about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Curry wasn’t getting open for any free looks from the perimeter. So the Warriors took him off the ball and had Iguodala run the pick-and-roll with Lee, who attacks the paint and kicks the ball out to the perimeter, where Chalmers is caught between Klay Thompson on the wing and Curry on the perimeter. How would you like your dagger, Mr. Chalmers?


VIDEO: Lee attacks the paint and finds Curry cutting to the rim

Play 6 – Mouse in the house

On the next possession, we have another Iguodala/Lee pick-and-roll. Instead of trapping it and falling victim to another three-on-two situation, the Heat switch it. The Warriors see the mismatch, get the ball to Lee at the high post, and he makes quick work of Wade.


VIDEO: Lee operates in the high post and scores on Dwyane Wade

The key against the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense is to get rid of the ball quickly. The easiest way to do that is for the screener to stay high and give the ball-handler a passing lane. But for most teams, having a big man with the ball 20 feet from the basket isn’t necessarily a good thing. If the screener isn’t adept at both passing and handling the ball himself, Miami can recover back and/or force turnovers.

The Warriors did commit 20 turnovers on Thursday and they have the league’s worst turnover rate. But they also forced the Heat to make adjustments defensively, because they got the ball to Lee quickly and he made the right decisions with it.

Lee has his issues on defense, but he’s one of the most skilled bigs in the league. And there’s not a better passing frontline in the league than Iguodala, Lee and Bogut. With Curry and Thompson (and Iguodala) providing the perimeter shooting, the Golden State starters have been the best offensive lineup in the league (minimum 100 minutes played).

The issue, of course, is their depth. While the starters have scored 117.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Golden State lineups have scored just 99.8.

Warriors efficiency

Lineups GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starting lineup 19 360 99.3 117.4 97.0 +20.5 +137
Others 34 1,285 99.2 99.8 98.9 +0.8 +19

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

The Warriors have a top-five defense and an offense that has played at a top-10 level when both Curry and Iguodala have been healthy (they’re 16-3 in those games), but they need one more guard to keep them afloat when the starters keep them off the floor. Their turnover ratio is higher with Curry off the floor (19.9 per 100 possessions) that it is with him on (16.2).

Still, for one night, while their defense struggled against the second best offense in the league, the skills of their starting lineup had enough to pick up their seventh straight win.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks at Miami’s deficiencies at defending the pick-and-roll

Curry Makes Biggest Impact Offensively


VIDEO: Stephen Curry lights up the Mavs and hits the game-winner

The List

Biggest on-off-court differential, OffRtg

On floor Off floor
Player Team MIN OffRtg MIN OffRtg Diff.
Stephen Curry GSW 744 112.0 370 86.5 25.5
Kevin Love MIN 748 109.5 313 86.0 23.5
John Wall WAS 755 104.6 230 83.9 20.6
Paul George IND 809 106.2 252 89.1 17.0
Klay Thompson GSW 872 107.1 242 91.8 15.3
Marcin Gortat WAS 691 104.3 294 89.4 14.9
Luol Deng CHI 656 101.3 324 86.6 14.7
Corey Brewer MIN 748 107.0 313 92.5 14.6
David Lee GSW 774 108.1 340 94.0 14.2
Ricky Rubio MIN 716 107.3 345 93.3 14.0

Minimum 300 minutes on the floor
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions

The Context

Last season, the leader in this category was Damian Lillard. The 2012-13 Blazers scored 11.5 more points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor than they did with him on the bench. Right now, Curry’s differential is more than twice that.

With Curry on the floor, the Warriors have scored 2.5 more points per 100 possessions than the best offense in the league (Portland). With Curry on the bench, they’ve scored 7.2 fewer than the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee).

Curry is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league and a unique challenge to defend, because he’s one of the league’s two or three best shooters, but also has the ball in his hands to start most possessions. He leads the league with 15.8 pull-up jumpers per game, including 5.1 from 3-point range.

Curry not only gets buckets himself, but the threat of him pulling up clearly creates openings for his fellow perimeter players. Klay Thompson has shot 7.4 percent better from the field and 9.9 percent better from 3-point range with Curry on the floor, while Andre Iguodala has shot 31.1 percent better from the field and 43.7 percent better from beyond the arc.

The Warriors have not only shot better with Curry on the floor, but they’ve turned the ball over 6.1 fewer times per 100 possessions. Both Nemanja Nedovic and Kent Bazemore have turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions.

Iguodala’s absence is certainly a factor in the offensive drop-off when Curry steps off the floor. Iguodala, who is the team’s back-up point guard in addition to being the starting small forward, and who also has a tolerable turnover rate, has missed the last 10 games with a hamstring injury.

But before Iguodala’s injury, the Warriors were still pretty bad offensively with Curry off the floor and Iguodala on, scoring only 93.7 points per 100 possessions over 195 minutes. They were strong defensively, however, and that’s where Iguodala’s absence has been felt most. Golden State has allowed 104.1 points per 100 possessions over the last 10 games after allowing just 96.5 over their first 13.

Even when Iguodala returns, backcourt depth will be an issue. Mark Jackson hasn’t been able to trust Nedovic and Bazemore, who have played a total of 114 minutes over the 10 games that Iguodala has missed. Curry, meanwhile, has played 40-plus in eight of the 10. Both Curry (11th) and Thompson (seventh) now rank in the top 11 in minutes per game. They’re young, but that’s a heavy burden to shoulder.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Golden State has been included among the teams interested in trading for Kyle Lowry. What they’d have to offer the Raptors is the issue. They don’t have much of value beyond their top six players.

The Warriors have played a tough schedule, with 14 of their 23 games on the road and 19 of the against the Western Conference. But their lack of depth has become a real concern. Nobody can come close to replicating what Curry gives them when he’s on the floor, but they need somebody who can at least keep their offense from falling completely off the map.

The Video

Here are Curry’s nine 3-pointers against the Clippers on Oct. 31, here are his 15 assists in Memphis from Saturday, and here’s his game-winner against the Mavs on Wednesday.

The bottom of the list

The Pacers have scored 14.7 more points per 100 possessions with Ian Mahinmi on the bench (106.5) than they have with him on the floor (91.8). Yeah, there’s still a big drop-off when Frank Vogel goes to his bench, but the reserves do their jobs defensively, Luis Scola has given them more offense than Tyler Hansbrough did, and Roy Hibbert‘s minutes are up from 28.7 per game last season to 30.7 this season.

Just ahead of Mahinmi is the Lakers’ Steve Blake at -14.6, and I wrote last week how L.A.’s bench has been so much better than their starters. Ahead of Blake are the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (-13.8), Vitor Faverani (-13.4) and the Pacers’ Orlando Johnson (-12.7).

Trivia question

What player has scored the most points without a single one coming from outside the paint? Hint: He’s a Western Conference big man who was once a top 10 draft pick by an Eastern Conference team.

More on-off-court notes

  • The presence of three Warriors in the top 10 further illustrates their lack of depth. Also in the top 10 are two Wizards, and when you take defense into account, John Wall has the largest on-off-court NetRtg differential. Washington has outscored its opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and has been outscored by 24.1 with him on the bench. That Eric Maynor addition hasn’t worked out too well.
  • It’s also interesting to see Luol Deng on the list. We understand how important Deng is to the Bulls’ defense, but it’s now clear that, without Derrick Rose, they desperately need Deng offensively. With him out over the last three games, Chicago has scored a brutal 79.8 points per 100 possessions against three bottom 10 defensive teams (Detroit, Milwaukee and New York). And no, D.J. Augustin isn’t going to help much.
  • At the top of the list defensively? Nate Robinson. The Nuggets have allowed 15.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Robinson on the floor than they have with him on the bench. Seems crazy, but the Nuggets have been just awful defensively in the first six minutes of games, allowing 121.2 per 100 possessions, more than 20 over the league average of 100.9 during that time. That has forced them to play catch-up when their reserves enter. Nate for DPOY!

Trivia answer

Andrew Bogut, who has 164 points, all from the paint (150) or from the free throw line (14).

O’Neal, Warriors Need Each Other

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring.

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring in Oakland.

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal has in motion multiple business ventures ranging from technology to restaurants to real estate. A “retirement house” — his words — under construction in an upscale suburb northwest of Dallas is less than a month away from completion. His wife, 7-year-old son and a 14-year-old, nationally ranked volleyball-playing daughter are already settled in their strategically chosen retirement city.

O’Neal, 35, has spent the past six years meticulously planning each detail of his family’s approaching future together beyond basketball.

“Sometimes as a black athlete we get judged by what we can do with our feet and our hands and not enough of what we can do with our minds,” O’Neal said. “I want to show people just how successful I can be away from basketball.”

Still, one nagging detail hovers over an NBA career that started in 1996. O’Neal sought out the team for what is likely his final season as thoughtfully as he went about setting up the next chapter for his life. The Golden State Warriors, a young team bursting with talent and expectation, seemed the logical landing spot for a wise, grizzled veteran to share battle stories and hunt down team glory one last time.

In this respect, O’Neal needs the Warriors right now as much as they just might need him.

“He’s a guy we went and got for that reason,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.

“I don’t have very many regrets because the NBA has been a life tool for me in many different ways, but one thing I do regret, and I tell these guys a lot, is not respecting the moment,” O’Neal told NBA.com last week during the stop in Dallas. “The moment is when you get an opportunity to be a great team, have a chance at doing something that’s extremely special, that’s very difficult to do. Not capturing that moment and doing what’s necessary to seize that ability, that championship smell and everything, thinking that you’re going to have next year and the year after and the year after; that next year may never come.

“Here I am in my 18th season still looking for that moment.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal scores on a driving layup vs. the Pelicans

O’Neal, averaging 6.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 18.8 mpg backing up starting center Andrew Bogut, reflects on the nonsensical twist his greatest shot at a title with the the Indiana Pacers took as if it were yesterday.

“We were young and we were built to be good for a very long time. You couldn’t have told me at any point that we weren’t going to be able to compete, and then the brawl happened (at Detroit in 2004), I got hurt and then it was all downhill after that,” O’Neal said. “As a player you respect every player that wins a championship, but you envy it sometimes because you know the time you put in, you know the heartache, the blood, sweat and tears you put in over many, many years and you haven’t got the opportunity to taste that champagne, feel the emotions of winning it, having the tears of joy.

“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Warriors second-year forward Draymond Green figures he was six or seven years old when he first remembered watching a young O’Neal play for the Portland Trail Blazers. Growing up in Michigan, Green watched O’Neal dominate in the Eastern Conference with the Pacers. From 2001-07, the 6-foot-11, six-time All-Star recorded six consecutive seasons of 19-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and at least two blocks. In the first three he averaged a double-double.

O’Neal is one of five first-round picks from the ’96 Draft still going: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Derek Fisher. Warriors forward David Lee laughed as he suggested that George Mikan was also in that class. And before Green could answer the question about the first time he recalled seeing O’Neal play, Lee butted in: “I was in my crib” — no slang intended.

That’s OK because O’Neal not only accepts the role of wise, old veteran, he relishes it. He’s been exceptionally vocal in the locker room recently as an already wounded team lost defensive ace Andre Iguodala to a hamstring injury.  Adversity has come early in a season that, at 10-8, hasn’t followed a championship script.

“I keep telling the guys these are the things that build the character of a team,” O’Neal said. “You go through the trials and tribulations to start the season and you learn how to depend on your team rather than depend on just two or three guys. We don’t have any conference finals, NBA Finals experience outside of me, so it’s my job to give these guys the stories and sometimes the hard love of what it takes to get to that level because it’s a very difficult thing. And they listen. This is a situation where everybody really likes each other. I was kind of blown away when I got here just how good these young guys were and what the limits were for our team, and the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Following last Friday’s loss at Dallas, O’Neal sat at his locker with ice bags wrapped around both knees and his right thigh. He flexed a sore wrist. All-in-all though, the oft-injured center who recently missed five games with a knee bruise and a groin strain, said he’s feeling pretty good.

He nearly retired two seasons ago. His knees ached so badly he played in just 49 games in two seasons for the Celtics. With two surgeries already on his left knee, O’Neal said he was on the verge of retirement. That’s when Kobe raved to him about the treatments he’s received in Germany, and urged him to try the Regenokine therapy that has yet to be approved by the FDA. O’Neal has gone to Germany the last two summers and swears by the treatment, resuming workouts he said he abandoned many years ago.

Still, this is it O’Neal truly believes. His business ventures are in place. The house is almost finished. His family is entrenched in the Southlake, Texas community, and is ready for him to become a permanent fixture in their lives.

“I tell these guys all the time that I’m one of the rare players that sat on probably every aspect of professional basketball, all the good, all the bad,” O’Neal said. “You look at one point we were rolling — shoe deals, commercials, max deals, whatever it was — to being broken down physically and mentally with injuries; to being rolling with a team, being one of the best teams in the league to basically being devastated by the brawl.”

So now here he sits, knowing this is very likely one-and-done, knocking on wood, telling his stories and hoping for the best.

“If I can get an opportunity to play for that championship,” O’Neal said, “it would almost be storybook-like.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal explains why he signed with the Warriors

Spurs’ Bench Propelling Hot Start


VIDEO: Spurs bench players Marco Belinelli and Matt Bonner connect for a nice play

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Spurs’ starting lineup was a big part of their defensive improvement last season. It was the best defensive lineup in the league and outscored its opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions in its 364 minutes.

This season, that same starting lineup hasn’t been too good It’s been pretty bad offensively (with Tim Duncan shooting less than 40 percent) and has actually been outscored by four points in 99 minutes. Yet the Spurs are 13-1 and rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, because they have the best bench in the league right now.

While the Spurs’ starters have basically broke even, all other San Antonio lineups have outscored their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions, playing great on both ends of the floor.

Spurs efficiency

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starters 10 99 95.8 93.5 92.7 +0.8 -4
Other lineups 14 572 97.2 108.3 92.2 +16.1 +173
Total 14 671 97.0 106.1 92.3 +13.9 +169

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

There are two aspects to having a great bench, and neither have to do with how many points the players off the bench score. You just have to go back to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls for an example of a great bench that didn’t score a lot of points. That group built on leads because they were great defensively.

Building on leads (or decreasing deficits) is obviously the most important trait of a good bench. But keeping your starters fresh is also critical (and obviously related to how well you build leads). Through Tuesday, every player on the Spurs is averaging less than 30 minutes a game and the five starters have played just 52 percent of the teams total minutes. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the season from a roster.

No other contender in the Western Conference has had the bench success that the Spurs’ “Foreign Legion” crew has had, but some have done well with their reserve minutes.

Note: Before the season started, six West teams would have been considered as “contenders.” Portland has been added to this group, because they’re off to such a hot start and also because their bench was their primary issue last season.

Efficiency from lineups other than starters

Team GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Golden State 15 532 98.3 97.8 97.2 +0.6 -1
Houston 15 665 100.4 106.4 101.5 +4.9 +36
L.A. Clippers 15 448 100.4 107.1 105.9 +1.2 +10
Memphis 14 513 91.8 99.4 104.0 -4.6 -47
Oklahoma City 12 483 99.6 106.0 96.1 +9.9 +81
Portland 15 442 97.1 106.9 101.6 +5.2 +64

Note: This includes lineups with 1-4 starters on the floor. It also includes lineups that started games when regular starters weren’t healthy or before a coach (Kevin McHale) made a lineup change.

Each team is its own case. Some have had their starters healthy for every game, some have not, and one – Houston – has already made a major change to its starting lineup.

Golden State

The Warriors’ starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – has been ridiculously good offensively, scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions in 192 minutes together. Combine that with solid defensive numbers and they’ve been the league’s best lineup (minimum 75 minutes) thus far.

Bench units (which include lineups that have started games that Curry and Iguodala have missed) have been strong defensively, but weak offensively. When Curry has been off the floor, the Dubs have scored an ugly 87.5 points per 100 possessions.

Breaking even will do when your starting lineup is so good, and the Warriors are in good shape if they’re healthy. But it’s clear that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry will be missed if injuries keep popping up.

Houston

The Rockets moved Terrence Jones into the starting lineup just seven games ago and have been without James Harden in three games since then, so their optimal starting lineup has played just 69 minutes together and their numbers above include lineups that have started 11 of their 15 games. That set includes lineups with both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik that we know were bad offensively.

So it’s difficult to gather much from these numbers. We do know that the new starting group, with Patrick Beverley and Harden in the backcourt, has been terrific so far. And we do know that the Rockets have been strong defensively – allowing just 95.7 points per 100 possessions – with Asik on the floor without Howard. So that’s a good sign for their bench … at least until Asik gets traded.

L.A. Clippers

As we all expected, the Clippers’ starting lineup has been great, especially offensively. It currently ranks as the fifth best lineup in the league. But the five starters have played over 68 percent of the team’s minutes, the second highest mark among the seven teams we’re looking at here.

Last season, when the Clippers had a great defensive second unit, that number was 51 percent. This season, they’re suffering on both ends of the floor when they go to their bench and though their starters have been solid on defense, they currently rank as a bottom 10 defensive team.

A healthy Matt Barnes will help, but a defensive big off the bench is needed. Lamar Odom was exactly that for them last season and you can understand why the Clips are monitoring his progress as he works his way back into shape.

Memphis

The Grizzlies’ starters weren’t what they were last season, when they outscored their opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions after the Rudy Gay trade. This season, they were just a plus-0.8 in 169 minutes together. But losing Marc Gasol (out indefinitely with a sprained MCL) is obviously a huge blow.

The new starting group (with Kosta Koufos in Gasol’s place) was an encouraging plus-12 in 33 minutes against the Spurs and Rockets. But the impact of Gasol’s injury might be felt most in the bench units, which have been poor already. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter, two guys who are supposed to bring offense off the bench, have shot a combined 32 percent.

Oklahoma City

We thought that, in the wake of Kevin Martin‘s departure, bench production was going to be a problem for the Thunder. But OKC’s bench units have been terrific, ranking second to only the Spurs in terms of NetRtg. The Thunder have outscored their opponents by an amazing 17.7 points per 100 possessions with Reggie Jackson on the floor.

The issue with the Thunder is the starting lineup, which has been outscored by 12.4 points per 100 possessions in its 97 minutes. Of the 27 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together this season, that ranks 25th, ahead only the original starting lineups of the Kings and Jazz. In those situations, both coaches have already made changes.

Scott Brooks will surely have more patience with his group, which was excellent (plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions) last season. The starting group has basically been bad in three games (minus-31 against the Pistons, Wizards and Nuggets) and OK in three games (plus-7 against the Suns, Mavs and Clippers). And the success of the bench units has far outweighed the starters’ struggles. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Portland

Last season, the Blazers’ “other lineups” got outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. No team suffered more offensively when a particular player stepped off the floor than Portland did when Damian Lillard sat down. So the bench, along with better defense from their center position, was the focus of their summer moves.

So far, so good, as the Blazers’ bench units have basically turned that number around, outscoring their opponents by that same 5.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ve scored a solid 103.5 points per 100 possessions when Lillard has sat, and he doesn’t have to lead the league in minutes this year.

The issue is that those bench units still include a lot of minutes from the starters. Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez account for more than 72 percent of the team’s total minutes. It’s obviously a younger group, but compare that with the 52 percent the Spurs’ starters account for.