Posts Tagged ‘DeMarcus Cousins’

Film Study: Is There Any D In DeMarcus?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In voting for seven reserves for next month’s All-Star Game, Western Conference coaches have some very difficult decisions to make.

The most interesting dilemma is what to make of DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks … for a team that’s 15-26.

My man Jeff Caplan did not pick Cousins among his seven reserves. Neither did Charles Barkley, Grant Hill or Kenny Smith. Shaquille O’Neal did, but it should be noted that he’s a minority owner of the Kings.

The biggest reason the Kings are 11 games under .500 is their defense. Through Thursday, they rank 28th in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions. It’s the third straight season they’ve ranked in the bottom three.

The question is how responsible is Cousins for the poor defense and if that basically negates a lot of his offensive production. What good is scoring 31 points (like Cousins did against the league’s best defense last week) if you’re helping your opponent (a below-average offensive team) put up 116?

Cousins’ basic defensive numbers look great. Only *five players (who have played at least 20 games) average more steals plus blocks per game than Cousins’ 2.98, but steals and blocks don’t always equate to good defense.

* The five are Anthony Davis (4.53), DeAndre Jordan (3.50), Andre Drummond (3.21), Michael Carter-Williams (3.03) and Roy Hibbert (3.02). Three of them also play for below-average defense teams.

The Kings have been better defensively with Cousins on the floor (allowing 105.6 points per possessions) than they’ve been with him on the bench (107.6). But that mark of 105.6 would still put them in the bottom six of the league defensively.

With Cousins on the floor, the Kings rebound and force turnovers at above-average rates. But the best thing you can do as a defense is defend shots, and they haven’t done that very well.

Kings defense with Cousins on and off the floor

Cousins on/off OppeFG% Rk DREB% Rk OppTOV% Rk OppFTA Rate Rk
Cousins on 52.4% 76.1% 15.8% .294
Cousins off 51.4% 75.1% 13.4% .331
Overall 52.1% 30 75.7% 9 15.0% 21 .308 25

OppeFG% = Opp. (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Kings opponents have shot 66.4 percent in the restricted area with him on the floor, a mark well above the league average of 60.2 percent. According to SportVU, opponents have shot 53.7 at the rim when Cousins is there defending it, a mark that ranks 48th among 59 players who have defended at least five shots per game over 20 games.

Some of the discrepancy between the 66.4 percent and 53.7 percent can be attributed to transition defense, where Cousins is more than a little lacking. In that game in Indiana in which Cousins scored 31 points, the Pacers shot 18-for-24 in the restricted area, 12-for-14 with Cousins on the floor, and had 25 fast-break points.

Here are a couple of examples where Cousins didn’t necessarily have a chance to stop the break, but could made a much better effort than he did…


VIDEO: Film Study of Cousins’ transition defense

In the halfcourt, Synergy Sports ranks Cousins as a “good” pick-and-roll defender. Of late, he’ been sagging in the paint when his man sets a high screen. Here’s Greg Stiemsma setting a screen on Isaiah Thomas with Cousins nowhere in the vicinity, giving Brian Roberts plenty of open space to work with.

20140124_cousins_sag

This is basically the same strategy that the Pacers employ with Defensive Player of the Year favorite Roy Hibbert, though Hibbert puts a lot more effort into using his length to keep the ball-handler out of the paint while also staying attached to his man. Cousins obviously isn’t on Hibbert’s level in regard to protecting the rim without fouling.

But the sagging strategy can force your opponent into mid-range shots, which is a good thing. With Cousins on the floor, Kings opponents have shot more from mid-range, but have also shot better from there.

One issue is that the Kings’ guards don’t stay attached to their man nearly as well as the Pacers’ guards do. Thomas is having a terrific season offensively, but he’s a little (pizza) guy who can get smushed on screens. Combine that with Cousins’ tendency to stay out of the picture, and opponents are going to have success if they have a guard who can shoot off the dribble.


VIDEO: Film Study on Cousins’ pick-and-roll defense

Against Kevin Durant last week, there was more of an effort to get up on high screens, but overall, Cousins does a lot of standing up straight on defense. He does have terrific hands though, and that can partially make up for his inconsistent effort and lack of fundamentals…


VIDEO: Cousins shows his swiping skills

And if you engage him defensively, Cousins has the ability to be a strong defender. On this play in Oklahoma City, Reggie Jackson attacks Cousins, who stays with him and contests his step-back jumper. In the second video above, we saw him strip Glen Davis in the post, and Synergy ranks him as an “excellent” post defender. Again, if he’s engaged, he has the size to block your path and the quickness to react to your counter moves.

The skills are there. The commitment is not. The Kings have worse defenders on their team, but none of them were signed to a max extension last summer.

If Cousins isn’t a plus on both ends of the floor, is he really a max player? If his team ranks 28th in defensive efficiency, is he really one of the best centers in the league?

Is DeMarcus Cousins an All-Star? We’ll find out next Thursday.

West Reserves: Injuries Make It Tricky

VIDEO: Debating the West All-Star reserves, Part 1

The big news is Golden State point guard and first-time All-Star Stephen Curry beat out the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul in the fan vote and Kevin Love, despite the Timberwolves’ struggles, surged passed Dwight Howard to give the Western Conference two new starters.

Now get set for big controversy: picking the seven reserves for the 63rd All-Star Game on Feb. 16 in New Orleans.

Start with injuries to Paul and Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

Despite playing only six games this season, Bryant was voted by the fans to start alongside Curry. Bryant said Thursday that someone else should play, but he also said he could play a couple minutes — if he’s able. (If he’s not, new commissioner Adam Silver will name a replacement.)

Paul is a different story. On Wednesday, Paul said he would like to play if he is able to return from a separated right shoulder that was expected to keep him out about six weeks. He sustained the injury on Jan. 3.

That makes things a bit complicated for the Western Conference coaches who will select the seven reserves. If healthy, Paul, an MVP candidate before being injured, is an automatic selection. Unsure if Paul, last year’s All-Star Game MVP, will be back in time, coaches might go ahead and select him, then allow for a commissioner’s replacement if he can’t play.

If Bryant can’t play,  an additional spot for a deserving backcourt player will open among a very crowded field of candidates, and introduce another new starter to the mix, possibly James Harden.

Frontcourt selections also won’t come without controversy. Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin join Love as the starters. Howard, who was second in voting after the third returns two weeks ago, will certainly be selected as a reserve, leaving two open spots.

Coaches will select two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild cards. Some might call it Mission Impossible. (For John Schuhmann’s look at the East, click here.)

THE BACKCOURT

Let’s just go ahead and rattle off the candidates: Paul, Harden, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Klay Thompson, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic and perhaps even Monta Ellis. (Imagine if Russell Westbrook was healthy.) He’d be an automatic selection, forcing  someone else off the roster. Fact is there will deserving players who won‘t get the call.

My picks: Paul and Harden. Harden is the league’s fifth-leading scorer and also averages 5.4 apg and 4.9 rpg on a contending team. Paul is averaging 19.6 ppg and his 11.2 apg is a league-best by two full assists. He’s a magician, plain and simple.

THE FRONTCOURT

Like point guard, the power forward position in the West could practically fill out an entire All-Star squad, so the process of elimination is going to be tough. Look at all the deserving big boys: Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, David Lee, Serge Ibaka and center DeMarcus Cousins (and Marc Gasol, an All-Star last year, but injured for much of the first half isn’t even in the discussion). Do-it-all small forward Nicolas Batum must be in the discussion.

My picks: Aldridge, Howard and Nowitzki. Aldridge (24.2 ppg, 11.6 rpg) is having a monstrous season for a top team. Howard is averaging 18.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg and 1.8 bpg. Nowitzki was the hard choice, but he’s averaging more than 21 ppg and has surged up the NBA’s all-time scoring list to No. 13 while keeping the Mavs in the playoff hunt.

VIDEO: Debating the West All-Star reserves, Part 2

THE WILD CARDS

Coaches will chose two players regardless of position. Some coaches might use this spot to balance the roster and others might just pick the two most deserving players. Either way, this could take some time for coaches to figure out because of the number of good choices.

This is also where the injuries to Bryant and Paul make it difficult. If both were out, I would suggest Harden will start and Parker would take Harden’s spot as a reserve. Paul’s absence would allow Lillard to take his spot. My wild cards would then be guard Dragic of the Suns and power forward Anthony Davis of the hometown Pelicans.

However, since I believe the coaches will select Paul, and Bryant is a starter as of now, the above scenario is not applicable.

My picks: Parker and Lillard. It’s impossible to understate Parker’s value to the Spurs. He’s averaging 18.4 ppg and 6.3 apg and is shooting an incredible 51.6 percent. Lillard is fearless in the clutch and is draining 3-pointers at a record pace.

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

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant’s beautiful mind | Heat hunting for inspiration | Magic hit the floor to end skid | Dragic has to sustain his energy for Suns

No. 1: Durant’s got it between the ears, too – Seven straight games with 30 or more points from the greatest scorer in the game should surprise no one. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant can do 30 a night with his eyes closed. And when you are a scoring genius and think through the game the way Durant does, eyes opened or closed … it doesn’t matter. At least that’s the way Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained (sort of) to Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman after Durant and the Thunder dismantled the Sacramento Kings:

Durant hit his scoring average, needing only 15 shots (and 10 makes) to score 30 points for a seventh straight game.

But his nine assists — the most he’s recorded in the last 25 games — was a more encouraging and revealing sign of the Thunder’s impressive night.

“I just love the way he thinks,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. “He thinks about the team … He took 15 great shots and made 10 of them. Everybody else got involved and had an opportunity to score.”

The biggest benefactor was Serge Ibaka, who scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. But he wasn’t the only one.

For the first time this season, OKC had six players in double-figures: Durant, Ibaka, Reggie Jackson (16), Thabo Sefolosha (10), Jeremy Lamb (10) and Nick Collison (10).

“When we move the ball like that,” Durant said of the Thunder’s 23 assists, “everybody touching it, that helps our defense as well.”

And so it did on Sunday night, allowing OKC to stifle every King not named Isaiah Thomas (a career-high 38 points), holding Sacramento under 100 points for only the third time in its last 16 games.

“They, for years, do a great job of turning you over,” Kings coach Mike Malone said, pointing to his team’s 20 giveaways. “But more importantly, (they) convert them.”


VIDEO: Check out Kevin Durant’s seventh straight 30-point outing for the Thunder

***

No. 2: What’s Miami’s motivation at this point of the season? – The two-time defending champion Miami Heat have a problem. They cannot seem to locate the proper motivation at this stage of a regular season that they know means little if they don’t finish it off with another parade. They have the luxury of not being pressed about finding it immediately, courtesy of a weak Eastern Conference playoff field that includes just the Indiana Pacers and Heat at the top. But, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald points out, they still have to find something to motivate them, some sort of rallying cry for the second half of the regular season:

Last February, the Heat watched the Super Bowl in Toronto, listened to Shane Battier give a theatrically hilarious, yet poignant speech on the team bus, and then won 27 games in a row. The streak was such an important part of the Heat’s season that the team’s ownership inscribed the accomplishment on the championship rings.

Players have called that day in Toronto one of the most memorable of their careers, and Sunday in Atlanta was a similar experience.

Of course, up until now, little has been memorable about this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Heat is 29-11 through the first 40 games of the season. Last season, before the streak, the team was 28-12 at this point, and on the way to 28-13.

On Monday, the Heat plays the grand finale of an unconventional six-game road trip that has dragged on for 11 days. Miami has played five consecutive games against teams with losing records and will end the road trip against the Hawks (20-19), who have the fourth-best record in the East, but are without their best player, forward Al Horford, for the remainder of the season.

The Heat’s overtime victory against the Bobcats on Saturday salvaged the six-game swing, which began with back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets, and gave Miami a chance to break even on a road trip that began with three consecutive losses.

“We haven’t lost three in a row in a very long time, so we got to put together a run and head into this All-Star break and this is the way to do it,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who had 10 rebounds against the Bobcats. “You look at the two teams that we’ve beaten, they’re young, they’re energetic, and even though their record doesn’t say so, those are the teams we struggle with, the teams that are .500 and below, so for us to come out here and be professional and get this win says a lot.”

Of the Heat’s 11 losses, nine have been to teams currently with losing records. The Bobcats were in position to become the 10th team on that inglorious list, but a staunch defensive effort by the Heat forced overtime, and the Heat dominated the extra period for a 104-96 victory.

“We were really upset with ourselves and we had to be honest,” Chris Bosh said of the Heat’s first-half effort against the Bobcats. “Charlotte is a good team, but 60 points in a half is too much. I don’t care if you’re playing the best offensive team in the league, that’s too much.

“They just seemed to be scoring at will, and we wanted to change that. We didn’t do a very good job of defending in the first half, but we picked it up in the second and got the win.”


VIDEO: The top five plays from Sunday’s action around the NBA

***

No. 3: Magic hit the floor to end their skid – When you are mired in a complete free-fall, any solution to get out of that mess needs to be considered. For the Orlando Magic, a team that endured a 10-game slide before ending it with a win over Boston Sunday, elbow and knee pads were the solution. Actually, they didn’t sport the elbow and knee pads, but they could have used them with the way they hit the deck repeatedly against the Celtics, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

After their losing streak reached 10 games, Orlando Magic players and coaches realized something fundamental needed to change. Not X’s-and-O’s, but something intangible.

Players and coaches talked together when they gathered for practice Saturday.

Whatever they had been doing during the first half of the season, and especially during their 10 consecutive losses, wasn’t working. They faced a choice: Either they would make a change and modify their collective spirit, or the second half of their season would devolve into a freefall of epic proportions.

They made that adjustment Sunday night. Magic players repeatedly dove to Amway Center’s parquet floor to collect loose basketballs. They covered for each other when they made defensive lapses. And that sustained intensity and improved cohesion, they said, played a direct role as they beat the Boston Celtics 93-91 and ended their losing streak.

“I could feel no personal agendas,” Arron Afflalo said after the win. “I could feel nothing but five guys who were on the court and the two guys who came off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory tonight.”

Afflalo scored 20 points, tied a career high by grabbing 13 rebounds and dished out six assists.

He also provided one of the game’s key baskets, tying the score 89-89 on a driving layup with 1:08 remaining.

After Rajon Rondo missed a jumper on Boston’s ensuing possession, Jameer Nelson drew a foul with 35.3 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws.

Boston’s Jeff Green countered a few seconds later, scoring on a layup as Afflalo fouled him. But Green missed the foul shot, and Victor Oladipo fell to the floor to corral the loose ball.

“When you have a mindset of just playing hard from the jump, you just continue to play hard,” Oladipo said. “When your teammates have your back, when they’re positive throughout the game, it’s hard not to be involved and it’s hard not to be focused and locked-in all night.”

***

No. 4: No slowing down for Dragic without Bledsoe – Goran Dragic doesn’t have the luxury of slowing down at the catalyst for the Phoenix Suns, not without Eric Bledsoe healthy and in the lineup. That means the veteran point guard has to keep his motor cranked constantly for a Suns team trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase. Dragic’s ability to sustain his high level of energy could very well be the key to the Suns’ season. He has to hold up. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

It is becoming taxing for Suns point guard Goran Dragic to take on more playmaking and more of the burden to score with more defensive attention on him. All the while, he is guarding the playmaker on the other side, a duty that usually fell to Bledsoe.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Dragic said. “If I’m going to think about how I’m tired, then it’s going to be even worse for me. I just try to battle. I try to be positive. I’m from Slovenia so back home it’s no excuse if you’re tired. Even when I was growing up, my father always said there’s going to be some hard days so you have to go through that. You can sleep after the thing that you do, if it’s work or a basketball game. Now, I’m feeling tired. But when the game is going on, I’m not thinking about it so much.”

Dragic had averaged 41.3 minutes over the previous three games entering Sunday night’s game against Denver. He does not back off his effort and now has a collapsing defense concentrating on him too.

“That’s always a concern, trying to keep an eye on a guy’s minutes and seeing if he’s getting worn out,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’ve had a pretty tough stretch of games where they haven’t had a lot of rest. When we’ve had days off between games, we’ve limited them from really doing anything trying to get their legs back. As we move forward, it doesn’t get any easier but we’ve got to get through that time.”

Dragic gave the Suns control Sunday night with 15 rebounds and six assists and he got some needed rest in return, logging only 24 minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are there rotation changes coming in Denver? Could be … Jonas Valanciunas gets benched for not producing … The Bucks get yet another lesson, this time from the best in the business … Danny Ainge assess all things for the Celtics at the halfway mark of the season … LaMarcus Aldridge will go left if need be for the Trail Blazers

ICYMI(s) of The Night: DeMar DeRozan has blossomed into a potential All-Star and the scoring leader for the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors. But he’s still one of the league’s elite above-the-rim finishers, as he shows here:


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan is what we call a finisher, especially above the rim

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.

MVP Ladder: Numbers Never Lie!



VIDEO: There is no doubt Carmelo Anthony gets the job done, but he’s not on the MVP Ladder

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In any barber shop debate guys like Carmelo Anthony and DeMarcus Cousins would be involved in the MVP mix. Their numbers are that impressive.

But who says numbers never lie?

Because raw numbers alone won’t get you on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. It takes a little more in this generation, what with the analytics movement in full bloom and the efficiency numbers of players meaning just as much or more than their cumulative stats. And then there’s the win-loss column, where arguably the most important numbers in the MVP equation, can be found.

“Winning has to count for something,” said Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars next month in New Orleans. “Paul George could chase more shots and score more points every night, but he’s sacrificing that urge for the greater good. All of our guys are making individual sacrifices for what we want to do as a team … Again, winning has to count for something.”

It’s a complicated mix that allows Blake Griffin and Kyle Lowry to claim spots that would have gone to Anthony and Cousins a generation or two ago. There is no concrete formula. There is instead an intricate matrix that rewards the players capable of combining the best of all of these components, the way Kevin Durant, LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George and Tony Parker, the top five guys on the MVP Ladder this week, day after day.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!

MVP Ladder: A Little Love For Blake!



VIDEO: The Clippers’ Blake Griffin is one just four players in the league averaging 20 and 10 this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A grand total of four players, just four, can boast of averaging 21 or more points and 10 or more rebounds a night this season in the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin is one of them, along with Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Three of the four are firmly entrenched on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder this week, Griffin joins the party this week at No. 8, and some folks would argue that Cousins should be included in that mix as well (if he keeps up his current level of play he might gain entry in the coming weeks).

Griffin’s ascent this season, however, has come with the added pleasure of watching one of the league’s true highlight players add some substance to all of that style. This is a tougher, feistier and much more rugged version of the dunk machine we’ve all watched the past few years.

“It’s really cool to be on his team these two years and watch the growth he’s made,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford told the Los Angeles Daily News. Griffin will only continue to get better under the tutelage of Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose ability to get the best out of his players is well-known.

Griffin’s task is even more complicated right now with fellow captain, All-Star and MVP candidate Chris Paul sidelined for six weeks with a separated shoulder. But Griffin seems more than up to the task, having increased his production (16 assists in the three games Paul has been out) in certain areas while maintaining his steady flow everywhere else.

And the best part, he hasn’t had to sacrifice his penchant for making highlights — as Kris Humphries can attest — in the meantime.

Dive in here for more on Griffin and a shake up involving Kevin Durant and LeBron James at the top of this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!

Hang Time One-On-One … With Al Horford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Al Horford‘s season came to an abrupt end on Dec. 26 when he reached for the ball and tore his right pectoral muscle, the second such injury in three seasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ two-time All-Star center.

Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in 2012 and missed four months recovering from that injury, coming back in the playoffs that season but missing all but 11 regular season games during the 2011-12 season. But the heat and soul of the Hawks’ franchise will not let this latest injury setback deter him. He’s vowed to return better than ever while continuing to serve as an influential voice and presence for his team during his recovery.

Just so we’re clear on the impact Horford had on the Hawks this season, his first playing alongside someone other than Josh Smith (now in Detroit) in the frontcourt, you need to consider what sort of company he was in as the Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder.

At the time of his injury Horford was one of just six players – LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings were the others — leading his team in points and rebounds.

Now Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and guys like Elton Brand and Pero Antic are left to help fill the massive void left by Horford’s absence for a Hawks team that has overachieved this season.

Interestingly enough, those are the same guys Horford expressed extreme confidence in when I sat down with him before his injury for the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series …



VIDEO: Al Horford opens up about his Hawks, his city, his journey and much more in this HT One-On-One

Blogtable: Is DeMarcus An All-Star?

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


Future pick: CHI or CLE | High-energy stud | DMC an All-Star?



VIDEO: Cousins Gets Out The Vote

Should DeMarcus Cousins be a Western Conference All-Star?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOf course he should. Despite the Kings’ record, Cousins is having a high impact season across the board – points, rebounds, steals, turnovers, usage, PER – and he’s doing it while playing as the focal point of the opponents’ defensive game plan. Maybe his bundle of skills wouldn’t showcase great in an All-Star Game – they tried to legislate out the big guys, right, with that “Frontcourt” designation? – and maybe he hasn’t fully “earned” the honor, based on his travels along the maturity scale. But it might help to expose him to the game’s most elite players, present and past, in concentrated form. Besides, I’ve always considered the “All Stars need to come from winning teams” filter arbitrary and, in a team game, wrong.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOf course, he should. If an anonymous big man were averaging 23.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.0 blocks per game, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. It’s only because his name is DeMarcus Cousins with his reputation and baggage that you’re asking the question.

DeMarcus Cousins (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMarcus Cousins (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The way I see it is two spots will be available. Let’s assume the West frontcourt starters remain as they are after two rounds of fan voting: Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. Then assume that Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge will be automatic picks as reserves (voted on by West coaches). So two spots remain. I don’t think David Lee and Tim Duncan return. Will coaches give Dirk Nowitzki, whose knee surgery last year ended 11 consecutive appearances, get him back in as he’s jumped from 18th to 13th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list? How about hometown kid Anthony Davis, who’s averaging a double-double and leads the league in blocks? Are Chandler Parsons and do-it-all Nicolas Batum in the hunt? Back to Cousins, he’s got the numbers, no doubt. He’s also got the rep, which won’t help. And the Kings have won a West-worst 10 games. Right or wrong, coaches put emphasis on winning. So no, DeMarcus Cousins will not make his first All-Star team.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNo. For one thing, team record should be factored. For another, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are on. That’s already five for the West front court. Then there’s Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis and maybe Zach Randolph. Cousins at 23 and 11 should be in the conversation. But through bad defense, foolish fouls and continued problems handling his emotions is hurting his team more than any of the other candidates. That’s the tough part to get past.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comNo. After the three guys who are leading the frontcourt voting, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love should be locks, and Cousins is in a second-tier group with Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, David Lee and Dirk Nowitzki. Given the Kings’ record, at least two of those guys (probably Duncan and Nowitzki) deserve a spot over Cousins. His individual numbers are terrific, but the Kings are 11-22 because their defense is atrocious. If you’re a center who wants to be an All-Star, you can’t have your team ranking 29th in defensive efficiency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Nope! Sorry big fella. There’s just no room for you on the Western Conference reserves list, not with all of the big men on that side of the conference divide playing the way they have so far this season. I know he’s putting up monster numbers this season, by far the best of his career. And I applaud him for that. He’s done a nice job in his effort to erase the drama from his profile and earning his keep as a team leader. It’s those other numbers, however, that hinder the chances of Cousins making it to New Orleans next month as anything other than a spectator (or as a contestant in one of the Saturday night events). I couldn’t put him on the team over LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love or Dwight Howard or David Lee or Anthony Davis or Blake Griffin or Dirk Nowitzki. Plenty of worthy candidates miss out on the All-Star Game because of the numbers game that always goes on. There are more All-Star worthy players than there are All-Star slots.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogYes. He’s been toiling away in Sacramento, mostly unnoticed by the casual fan, but check out his numbers in comparison to some of the other Western players, like in this comment from the All Ball DeMarcus All-Star post. Cousins will have a few things working against him, including a history of making mischief, as well as playing on a team that only has 11 wins. But the Kings have committed themselves to Cousins and he has to commit himself carrying them. An all-expenses paid weekend trip to New Orleans would be a nice bonus for everyone involved.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Hey, if they can’t find him a spot in the Western Conference, can they loan him to the Eastern Conference? I mean, sure, there are enough good options in the East to fill the frontcourt rotation, but how many of them are actually playing better than Cousins? He is an All-Star, no doubt about it, even in the loaded West. He’s definitely one of the top 4 post players in the conference.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Definitely. If you go by PIE or Player Efficiency Rankings, Cousins is in the top-10 in both categories. Moreover, there is no pure center in the league ranked ahead of him, not even Dwight Howard. The argument against Cousins, however, is Sacramento’s worst record in the West. But if winning is everything, then Carmelo Anthony, too, shouldn’t be an All-Star this season.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: As much as I’ve loved watching him play this season, that Western Conference frontcourt is probably too congested with Howard, Aldridge, Love, Griffin, etc. all going to make it.