HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – All you are going to hear about in the days ahead are the players not in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest field during All-Star Saturday night.
There’s no Blake Griffin, the reigning champ. And as usual, no LeBron James, the player everyone wants to see in the contest (for the first time).
But instead of crying about what was, what could be or what should be, we’re rocking with the guys who will be in Orlando vying for the title as the NBA’s slam dunk champ.
Kudos to Chase Budinger of the Houston Rockets, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks (who will reportedly have some assistance from Jeremy Lin) and Derrick Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves for accepting the challenge.
We’re cool with having a fresh face win this contest for once, no offense to Nate Robinson or anything, but a little new blood on All-Star Saturday night is always a good thing.
Some quick takes on the happenings around the NBA …
The Old Men and the Cs: If this is the end, and indications are that it is, viewed through the standings or the honesty of Danny Ainge in admitting a willingness to break up the Big Three, then there should be no regrets. It was a short run for the Celtics but a great one, three full seasons of one title and another push deep into the fourth quarter of Game 7 of The Finals in 2010 before falling short. Quickly going from contender to geriatric was always part of the deal. The initial investment from summer 2007 – acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and spending big on a KG extension rather than building with Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson and lottery picks – is a no-brainer in retrospect.
The Celtics aren’t necessarily road kill, by the way. While not in the same class as the Heat, Bulls or 76ers in the East, and maybe the Hawks, there is still time to find the rip cord and reach the playoffs if the roster stays together and they can delay rebuilding until the summer. Anyone sure about the Magic in the playoffs if Dwight Howard is traded? The Pacers, the team that just gagged on a 16-point lead and lost to the Kings as Sacramento shot 30.1 percent from the field and 68.3 from the line? The Knicks? Boston won’t be champions, but it can still be respectable. (more…)
*** HANG TIME HQ, ATLANTA — It’s a big man’s game, always has been and always will be, and if you doubt that, just check out the number of zeros on Kwame Brown‘s paycheck.
And yet: The season of the point guard is taking shape quite nicely. With few exceptions, the majority of championship contenders and playoff hopefuls are getting strong play from the point and in some cases, two point guards. This isn’t a surprise, though; we all saw this coming, because of the number of point guards taken recently in the Draft who have developed quickly and efficiently.
Let’s take a quick sampling:
The Wolves are flourishing with Luke Ridnour starting and Ricky Rubio finishing games. Coach Rick Adelman is doing the right thing by bringing Rubio along slowly and keeping all pressure to a minimum. The kid’s going to be special, why rush it?
Ty Lawson has come into his own in Denver, and the quality of play at the point doesn’t suffer when he’s replaced by Andre Miller. The Nuggets are getting 12.5 assists a game from the duo and are off to a credible start.
While they aren’t challenging for a title anytime soon, the Bobcats are giving heavy minutes to both D.J. Augustin and rookie Kemba Walker, who often are on the floor together; arguably, they’re the Bobcats’ best hope for the future. That is, if Charlotte doesn’t trade one of them (Augustin most likely) in the future.
Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul have been the starting backcourt for the Clippers all season. This is an ideal situation because the Clippers are loaded with finishers, primarily Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, so it helps to have a pair of guards who know how to deliver the ball. Lob City, you know.
Oklahoma City has Russell Westbrook in contract drive, and then with Eric Maynor lost for the season with a torn ACL, Reggie Jackson had 11 points and four assists off the bench against the Spurs on Sunday.
In Miami, rookie Norris Cole has been a big discovery, and he has lit a fire under Mario Chalmers, who was big (29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Atlanta last week.
Of course, there’s also the returning MVP, Derrick Rose; Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash are among the league leaders in assists and Kyle Lowry is having a career season in Houston. And we should mention the No. 1 pick in last summer’s draft, Kyrie Irving, is beginning to blossom with the Cavs.
Interestingly, point guard was a big topic Sunday in D.C., where Rubio had 14 assists and outplayed John Wall, the No. 1 pick a few years ago. This was a curious case because the Wizards gave Minnesota the No. 1 pick that became Rubio. Here’s how it happened: Back in 2009 the Wizards were in the lottery, but when they drew the No. 5 pick, they decided to ship it to new Wolves GM David Kahn for immediate help. Kahn sent Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wizards, who figured Foye (the No. 7 pick in 2006) was ready for a breakout and would be better than anyone available at No. 5.
Kahn then took heat for drafting two point guards, Rubio and Jonny Flynn, back-to-back. And Rubio’s people were very hesitant to send him to the Wolves, a perennial loser; Rubio subsequently re-signed with his team in Spain. Meanwhile, the Wizards were expecting a big 2009-10 season, with Gilbert Arenas back from knee surgery and ready to regain the form that made him dangerous at both ends.
Well, we know what happened. Gilbert brought his guns to the arena five months later and the Wizards crumbled. At least they grabbed the No. 1 pick in the next lottery, and Wall had a promising rookie year. But Wall has regressed, especially his shooting. He made only 3-of-10 against the Wolves and two of those were dunks. Plus, the Wizards fell to 0-8. Rick Kamla of NBA TV had an interesting question: If you were starting an NBA team today, would you want Rubio or Wall?
Afterward, Wolves coach Rick Adelman was asked when Rubio — who has started the season by playing every second of every fourth quarter — was going to be promoted to starter.
“I get real tired of answering that,” he said. “He’s doing just fine.”
Fine enough that one Verizon Center press room wag commented on how Rubio, at first glance, makes his teammates better while Wall doesn’t. The Wolves, by the way, have seven players on their roster who were top-six lottery picks. The Wizards’ only other player chosen that high is last summer’s No. 6 pick, Jan Vesely.
“If it had been Rubio, who knows, John Wall might not have been here,” Washington coach Flip Saunders said, referring to that 2009 trade the Wizards hoped would bolster a team that at the time included Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. “There were a lot of things that went into the whole equation.”
Rubio said Sunday he is happy where he is.
“I don’t know, Minnesota was the team that drafted me and I don’t think anything else,” Rubio said. “They were the ones who trusted me and I’m so glad they did.”
Rubio is only a month younger than Wall, but he was just 17 when he started for the silver-medal-winning team from Spain in the 2008 Olympics. He also won a Euroleague title with FC Barcelona in 2010 and won the Spanish League title last season. Rubio didn’t put up great numbers in Europe or in the European championships last summer, but he has found an NBA game that is more compatible to his style of play.
“Here, you can find more space to penetrate and for passes,” Rubio said. “I don’t want to say I played bad last year. My team won almost everything, so I did something well, right? So that’s teamwork and sometimes you don’t need to shine for your team to win.”
Oh, and speaking of teams off to a poor start, the Nets are still optimistic about re-signing Deron Williams next summer, when he becomes a free agent. And if Williams does sign up, would Dwight Howard follow? That’s a good bet, because while this is a big man’s league, Howard wants and needs a point guard to make him look even better.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For all the magic Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love or Rubio and Michael Beasley or even Rubio and Derrick Williams might make on the court, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ true dynamic duo this season should be Rubio and his new mentor.
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman holds the keys to Rubio’s rookie season, and his career to some extent, and so far is driving flawlessly so far. Much like Paul Silas did with LeBron James so many years ago, Adelman has to press all the right buttons early on with a player that is dealing with pressures, internal and external, that not every top draft pick has to deal with.
Rubio is only four games his journey and raised the stakes already with masterful performances in a loss to the Heat on Friday and Sunday’s win over the Mavericks, the two teams that played for the NBA title last season.
Did you see him work against the Mavericks? (If not, check the video above.) His 14-point, seven-assist, four-rebound showcase included five consecutive points scored after the Mavs shredded a 15-point lead to just one.
It’s clearly a matter of time for Rubio to overtake Luke Ridnour as the starting point guard for the Timberwolves. But it’s up to Adelman to decide when to push that button. Adelman’s work with young point guards in the past — namely Jason Williams and also Mike Bibby in Sacramento — suggests that he is following a revised script that only he is privy to.
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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.
Who will be the best NBA player in five years among rookies?
Steve Aschburner:Ricky Rubio. Kyrie Irving is the safe, logical pick and Derrick Williams seems like the type of player who may be appreciated most by hardcore basketball fans. But I think Rubio has the court vision, the skills, the pass-first sensibility and the charisma to become a star. He’ll certainly get the proper nurturing and training wheels from a Minnesota franchise that can hardly bear to have him fail. Ole, indeed.
Fran Blinebury: Kyrie Irving. It’s a point guard’s world in the NBA today and Irving will have all the opportunity to excel.
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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.
Which non-L.A. team has improved the most since June?
Steve Aschburner: Indiana. I like what the Pacers have done in adding David West, in making Frank Vogel the permanent head coach (in NBA terms, anyway) with an upgraded staff and in challenging their core to improve from within. Even Danny Granger, an All-Star, is being nudged to grow his game, which sets a standard for the other guys. If George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough are on the second unit, that’s a pretty solid rotation. The key remains Roy Hibbert, who will put it all together one of these seasons. Unless he doesn’t.
Fran Blinebury: Putting Tyson Chandler in the middle of the lineup with the big guns of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Baron Davis should enable the Knicks to finally move up and out of the Borough of Mediocrity where they’ve been cozily living like it’s a rent-controlled apartment for years. Note that I said should.
Scott Howard-Cooper: The Pacers, beating out the Knicks. Indiana turned a mid-first pick in a bad draft into George Hill and later signed David West at the low risk of a two-year commitment. Not only two proven starters, but at very good prices.
After a long two-year wait, Wolves fans arrived ready to holler for Rubio, no matter what he did. A few shouted for his appearance — he watched from the bench while Luke Ridnour started — right from the game’s opening seconds.
The rest cheered whether he made plays sensational or simple.
“Yeah, they loved him,” forward Michael Beasley said. “He made bounce passes, and they were in awe.”
They serenaded Rubio with sing-song chants of “Olé, olé, olé” — like soccer fans back in his native Spain do — after he lobbed a fourth-quarter pass to fellow rookie Williams for a thunderous slam dunk.
He finished with six points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals, one turnover and a foul in 24 minutes on a night when he easily could have reached double-digit assists if his teammates had converted more of his passes.
With a few Kings sitting out Saturday’s game at Golden State, Fredette got the start alongside Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton in the Kings’ 107-96 loss. He missed his first shot, but in 35 minutes, Fredette shot 7-for-11 from the field, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range.
The Kings haven’t practiced much using Evans, Fredette, Thornton together. With the injuries, Westphal saw Saturday’s preseason game as an opportunity to look at the lineup.
“Out of our three perimeter players, we really don’t care who brings the ball up because they’re all interchangeable,” Westphal said. “That’s why we don’t get caught up in who’s the point guard, shooting guard.”
Westphal likes the idea of having Thornton and Fredette – two of his best three-point shooters – on the floor together. Westphal said he doesn’t mind Evans taking an open three pointer, either.
All three also can handle the ball and, against the Warriors, the 6-foot-6 Evans was big enough to play small forward.
There were questions about whether Fredette would be able to create his own shot in the NBA, but we have to remember that he’s surrounded by NBA talent now, and will have a lot more space to operate than he did when he was a one-man show at BYU.
Fredette’s also got a pretty quick release. He was 3-for-4 on catch-and-shoot jumpers and 4-for-6 on jumpers off the dribble.
And are we over-analyzing a single preseason game? Absolutely!
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – One of our most cherished traditions here at the hideout is coming to an end and we didn’t even realize it until just now.
All those days spent joking at the expense of the Minnesota Timberwolves could soon be a thing of the past. That laughing at Timberwolves GM David Kahn for something he either said or did might be over.
And it has everything to do with the fact that the Timberwolves had arguably the best pound-for-pound offseason of any team in the league. Rick Adelman comes aboard as coach. Heralded rookies Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams join the rotation along with solid veteran pick up and Adelman fave Brad Miller. And All-Star Kevin Love (the bearded, slender gentleman in the video above) shed a few pounds and looks like he’s in All-Star form heading into the start of training camp.
After a couple of years of trying to fit the right players into the wrong system, Adelman will bring a talent-friendly scheme to a deep and promising roster that needed just the right fit in a head coach.
While it’s far too early to set foot on thin ice and predict this team will rise into the ranks of Western Conference playoff contenders, it is fair to say that they’ve got our full attention right now.
Much like the Wolves were faced with a franchise-defining decision whether to break the bank to sign a youngster named Kevin Garnett 14 years ago, the Wolves soon will have to decide whether the face of the franchise right now will become THE centerpiece worthy of such a deal.
If the Wolves don’t sign Love to a contract extension in the coming weeks, he could become a restricted free agent next summer.
If someone offers him a max contract then, the Wolves simply could choose to match the offer then and keep him.
If Love decides not to sign an offer sheet with another team then, he could play the 2012-13 on a $6.1 million qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2013.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’re a little embarrassed to admit it, but we can’t take our eyes off of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Between the long-awaited arrival of Ricky Rubio, the dynamic frontocurt duo of Kevin Love and Michael Beasley, the arrival of newcomer Derrick Williams and the always entertaining words and actions of general manager David Kahn, the Timberwolves make it hard to ignore them.
(We realize that stalking a cellar dweller in the NBA is akin to being hooked on trashy reality TV, but we can’t help it.)
The only remaining question is whether or not all this promise translates into something concrete on the court, and more importantly in the win-loss column. With just 32 wins in the past two seasons, we need something a bit more substantial in that category to justify all of this hype.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve got dreamers, late-bloomers, trail blazers and twins, oh and at least two guys — Kyrie Irving and to a lesser extent Derrick Williams – who are supposed to be franchise saviors.
The NBA Draft is the gift that just keeps on giving, year after year and player after player. The 2011 edition was no different, with tons of colorful sorts from lands near and far joining the party.
The rookies, whether they realize it or not, will probably never be more entertaining than they are right now and in the next few months, when all of this is still new to them, before they are no longer blinded by the lights, cameras and non-stop action that is the daily grind of NBA life.
But even without the cameras around, the new guys can’t help but make you smile. Because rookies say the darndest things sometimes. After spending a few days with them leading up to the big night, we gathered a couple of examples to share with you:
“Well, I truly believe that Duke is a professional program. The way we prepare, practice, we practice like professionals and that’s what he taught me and that’s what I’m going to carry to the next level is how to prepare like a professional: Countless hours of film, breaking things down in practice, preparing for the next team, thoroughly. There’s not one team that I thought we were unprepared for, even when I was hurt.
“So being a part of the Duke program and shadowing the coaches when I was hurt, I really learned a lot how to prepare like a professional. When I was playing it was a little different, because things were happening really fast. But when I was hurt, things ‑‑ it slowed down for me. So I really got a chance to learn from them, learn from the coaches especially.”
– Irving on why Duke is such a great training ground for future professionals