Posts Tagged ‘Emmanuel Mudiay’

Blogtable: Early 2016 Rookie of Year pick

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


BLOGTABLE: Biggest impact for Clippers? | Early Rookie of the Year pick? | Favorite Manu Ginobili moment?



VIDEO: Top rookie plays from Summer League 2015

> With all three Summer Leagues behind us, who is your gratuitously early pick for 2016 Rookie of the Year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Four times in NBA history, players from the same team have been named Rookie of the Year in consecutive seasons, and it’s about to happen again. Karl-Anthony Towns is no sleeper pick, obviously, but he impressed me enough in Las Vegas — and rightfully should get enough minutes and usage in Minnesota — to be my ROY favorite. By winning 12 months after fellow No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, the two Timberwolves would be the first tandem in 42 years to do it. Those who preceded them: Buffalo’s Ernie DiGregorio (1974) and Bob McAdoo (1973), Portland’s Sidney Wicks (1972) and Geoff Petrie (1971), Baltimore’s Wes Unseld (1969) and Earl Monroe (1968), and the Chicago Zephyrs/Packers’ Terry Dischinger (1963) and Walt Bellamy (1962). For the record, four of those guys became Hall of Famers, three others were All-Stars but only Unseld and Monroe made it as far as the Finals as teammates.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Jahlil Okafor. He’s got a low post game ready to score points, get rebounds and plays for a team that will need plenty of them.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Jahlil Okafor will get plenty of minutes, responsibility and touches in Philly, and because his game seems NBA-ready, it’s hard to pick against him. If I’m going off Summer League, my wild card would be Myles Turner, who showed a little something-something for the Pacers, and besides, there’s a big-man vacancy in Indy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I would pick Jahlil Okafor, because the Sixers need any kind of offensive production they can get and he’ll get every chance to average 15-20 points per game. But I don’t like that he doesn’t have a competent point guard to get him the ball. So I’m going with Emmanuel Mudiay, who has been given the keys to the Denver offense with the trade of Ty Lawson. The Rookie of the Year generally comes down to raw stats, and the most likely guy to put up big numbers is the guy with the ball in his hands.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: So much of who ends up winning Rookie of the Year depends on the situation — playing time and the role a rookie is asked to play on his team being the most crucial components — that it’s sometimes much more difficult than it appears to simply select the “best” rookie. That said, I truly believe the table is set for Stanley Johnson to steal the award this season in Detroit, if the race is about more than just who puts up the best numbers as a rookie but also who makes the biggest impact on his team on both ends of the floor.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAfter the draft I would have said D’Angelo Russell. But now I’m going with Jahlil Okafor, based on his ready-made skills in the post and the fact that the 76ers will be depending on him to score this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog: I watched several of the top rookies in Vegas and Orlando, and the guys who really jumped out at me were Frank Kaminsky, who quickly seemed to find his footing, at least on the offensive end, Karl-Anthony Towns, who can impact games immediately defensively, and Jahlil Okafor, who will get immediate playing time by virtue of being on the perpetually rebuilding 76ers. But to me, the player who has the best chance of being selected the Rookie of the Year is Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay. Not only do point guards historically have a leg up in the ROY race, as they have the ball more often than other players, but Denver also moved Ty Lawson, clearing the way for the Mudiay movement to begin in full.

Morning Shootaround — July 20


VIDEO:
Charles Barkley and Steve Kerr mix it up on After Dark with Rick Fox

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul only cares that Jordan is back in LA | Rockets willing take risk on Lawson | Former Kentucky stars lift Suns to title game | McDermott ready for breakout season under Hoiberg

No. 1: Paul only cares that Jordan is back in LA — At this point, the details no longer matter to Chris Paul. The rumors and speculation of his fractured relationship with DeAndre Jordan and how it almost led to Jordan’s departure for Dallas via free agency was overblown, if you listen to the Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar and his version of the team’s wild and crazy free agent summer. He and Jordan are “brothers,” or as Paul put in Sunday, Jordan is his “big little brother.” Justin Verrier of ESPN.com explains:

While reports indicated that a rift between Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan played a role in the center agreeing to sign a free-agent deal with the Dallas Mavericks before ultimately re-upping with the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul said that it “doesn’t matter” what people say, and that he’s “unbelievably happy” to have him back.

“DeAndre’s like my big little brother,” Paul said before the first annual Players’ Awards at the Penn & Teller theater at the Rio Las Vegas. “We talk a lot more than people ever realize. But it doesn’t matter [what people say]. The only thing that matters is that he’s back.”

After heavy courting from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and forward Chandler Parsons, Jordan agreed to a four-year max contract with Dallas early in free agency. But after a chaotic chain of events that saw a cavalcade of Clippers personnel — including coach Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce and Paul himself — meet with Jordan at his Houston home, the 26-year-old changed his mind and signed a four-year deal with the Clippers worth an estimated $88 million, according to ESPN sources.

“It’s been pretty wild,” said Pierce, who signed a reported three-year, $10 million deal with the Clippers this offseason. “But I think that whole saga really took a form or shape of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be, but I made my decision to be a Clipper and DeAndre changed his mind and made his decision to be a Clipper. We’re happy with the way things turned out.”

Pierce, who played for the Washington Wizards last season, said he wasn’t privy to the events before his arrival in L.A., but is encouraged by the result of the sitdown.

“I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought,” Pierce said. “But I was on the outside looking in. I think guys really cleared the air if there was any tension, but a lot of the media made it more than it really was from what I saw. But it was good just to have the main guys who are going to be the main voices on this team in one room. It was really good. Hopefully it can be the start of something special.”

***

No. 2: Rockets willing to take risk on Lawson — Daryl Morey has never been averse to taking risks in building a championship-caliber team in Houston. His latest move, however, might be his riskiest yet. The addition of former Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, fresh off of his second DUI in the past six months, could solve a huge issue at the position for the Rockets … provided Lawson cleans up his own issues off the court, of course. It’s a process the Rockets will attack carefully as they attempt to reap the rewards of this risky venture. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:

The Rockets’ pursuit of a playmaker landed them one of the league’s best and a bargain price – but with one huge question mark attached.

The Rockets reached agreement on a deal for Denver point guard Ty Lawson, acquiring the six-year veteran without giving up anyone from their playing rotation, a person with knowledge of the deal said on Sunday. The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal will not be complete until Monday morning.

The move, however, is not without risk. Lawson entered a 30-day private alcohol treatment program last week after his second DUI arrest in the past six months. He has a court appearance scheduled for Aug. 20 in Denver.

Though often targeted in trade talks and especially since Denver drafted Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh pick of the NBA Draft last month, Lawson’s off-court problems had apparently dramatically reduced the Nuggets’ asking price.

The Rockets will send guard Nick Johnson, forward Kostas Papanikolaou, guard Pablo Prigioni and center Joey Dorsey, along with a protected first-round pick to get Lawson. Only Johnson was expected to have a chance to be in the Rockets playing rotation next season, and in his case, only if he could make the transition to point guard.

The pick that will go to Denver is protected through the lottery. The Rockets will receive Denver’s 2017 second-round pick.

Lawson, 27, has two seasons worth $25.6 million remaining on his contract.

With the move, along with an agreement with forward KJ McDaniels on Sunday, the Rockets move into the luxury tax. They can still sign Jason Terry or other players to veteran minimum contracts, but once they use any of their remaining mid-level exception money to sign second-round pick Montrez Harrell, they will be “hard-capped” and unable to make those offers.

Prigioni is expected to be waived shortly after the deal is official, with only $440,000 of his contract guaranteed. Papanikolaou’s contract, worth $4.7 million, is non-guaranteed if he is waived by Oct. 4, but he and Johnson were considered important parts to a deal.

For the Rockets, Lawson brings the playmaking they had said they wanted since the end of last season and with strengths that match their up-tempo and pick-and-roll style.

While bringing playmaking at point guard that the Rockets had lacked, he is not an ideal fit next to James Harden because he is at his best with the ball in his hands and the Rockets have preferred to keep Harden as their primary ball-handler. Lawson, however, has shown potential as a catch-and-shoot threat, especially on corner 3s where last season he made 42.1 percent of his shots.

While Harden was second in the NBA last season in points scored or produced with his assists, Lawson was seventh. He has made 46.6 percent of his shots and 36.9 percent of his 3-pointers in his career, but has never played with a playmaker to get him the spot-up opportunities he can get while playing with Harden.

Lawson averaged 15.2 points and a career-high 9.6 assists last season, third in the NBA behind Chris Paul and John Wall.

With the deal for Lawson after signing Pat Beverley, Marcus Thornton and Corey Brewer this month, the Rockets go from thin in the backcourt at the end of last season when Beverley was hurt and Prigioni and Terry had to man the point, to unusually deep around Harden.

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No. 3: Former Kentucky stars lift Suns to title game — There were enough of them in summer league action this summer to field two teams comprised strictly of former Kentucky Wildcats, both young (Devin Booker) and old (Keith Bogans). A robust group of 13 were on various rosters in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Three of them, Booker, Archie Goodwin and Josh Harrellson, will cap things off today in the championship game in Vegas after combining for 62 points to lift the Phoenix Suns past the New Orleans Pelicans. As Dennis Varney of the Herald Leader explains, it’s good to be Blue these days:

The Phoenix Suns’ trio of former Kentucky stars combined for 62 points, including going 9-for-19 from three-point range, in the team’s 93-87 victory over the previously undefeated New Orleans Pelicans in the Las Vegas Summer League semifinals on Sunday night.

Rookie Devin Booker led the way with 31 points, which tied the single-game high for the Las Vegas summer league this year. He was 5-for-9 from long range, and also had nine rebounds and two assists. Booker hit six of seven free-throw attempts.

“I just want to get wins,” Booker said. “I always have a winning attitude, and that’s what we’re out here for.”

Booker missed his first eight three-point attempts to start summer league play, but he has heated up since.

“Shooters never stop shooting,” he said. “I’ve been through slumps before, but you always have to keep shooting. … I wasn’t worried about it. I knew it was eventually going to fall.”

Josh Harrellson, a free agent trying to play his way back on to an NBA roster, started in place of the Suns’ Alex Len (rest). Harrellson scored 19 points to go with nine rebounds and an assist.

Harrellson was 3-for-8 from three-point range, and he’s 10-for-23 (43.5 percent) from that distance this summer.

Third-year Suns guard Archie Goodwin, who has scored 20-plus points in three of the team’s six games this summer, added 12 points, six rebounds and four assists.

***

No. 4: McDermott ready for breakout season under Hoiberg? — A fresh start could be just what Doug McDermott needs in Chicago. And he, along with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and the rest of the veterans on the roster, will get exactly that with new coach Fred Hoiberg. But if his performance this summer is any indication, McDermott could benefit more than anyone from the change. In a Q&A with Sam Vecenie of CBSSports.com, McDermott addressed that premise and more:

CBSSports.com: You’re coming off of a rookie year where you didn’t really get to play a lot. What do you think your role will look like next year given that the Bulls didn’t really lose anyone?

McDermott: You know, you learn from those guys. A lot of veterans still. But I think I fit in with Coach Hoiberg’s system pretty well, so I think it’ll be a great experience getting to learn from someone like him.

CBSSports.com: That’s actually another thing I wanted to ask you about. Coach Hoiberg actually went to your high school if I remember correctly. That’s kind of a weird and awesome coincidence for you, no?

McDermott: Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s great having a coach you can relate to, but even more having a guy that grew up in the same town as you is pretty cool. We didn’t know each other a whole lot when I was growing up, but just having his presence around is pretty cool.

CBSSports.com: Did you have any experience at all with him beforehand?

McDermott: I actually saw him at a couple of weddings, just with people that we knew mutually so we actually got to know each other a little bit there. So it was good to really get to know him a little beforehand.

CBSSports.com: What’s the biggest thing you learned from your rookie year this year?

McDermott: Just patience. You know, you gotta wait your turn, especially on a good team. It’s all about getting better every single day. You can’t really worry. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You just have to put in your work and good things will happen.

CBSSports.com: One thing I noticed here in summer league is that you were playing a bit more of the 4. Do you think that’s going to be something you do more of throughout next season?

McDermott: Yeah, I think it’ll kind of depend on matchups and stuff. And having a guy like Niko Mirotic, we can kind of play both the 3 or 4 and kind of run the same spots so being able to play with a guy like him, plus we have a lot of versatility out there so I think it’ll be good.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Oft-maligned Italian big man Andrea Bargnani believes he can be an impact player in Brooklyn and is not shy about saying so … The Utah Jazz are prepared to buck the small ball trend going on in the NBA today … Seth Curry of the New Orleans Pelicans summer league squad did his best to keep the good vibrations going for the family …

Report: Rockets acquire Ty Lawson from Denver

VIDEO: The Starters discuss Ty Lawson trade from Denver to Houston.

LAS VEGAS — The Houston Rockets are trying to keep up in the Western Conference arms race, trading for Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski

The Denver Nuggets have reached agreement to trade guard Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Houston will send Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson and a protected first-round draft pick to Denver, sources said. Along with Lawson, the Nuggets will send a future second-round pick to Houston.

Lawson, 27, entered treatment for alcohol abuse last week after he was arrested on DUI charges for the second time in six months.

If Lawson can resolve his off-court issues, he’s an obvious upgrade at point guard, with Patrick Beverley likely moving back to the bench after two seasons as the starter. Lawson also relieves James Harden of some of the ball-handling and play-making duties. And he will certainly help the Rockets play with pace.

The deal puts the Rockets right at the luxury tax line with 12 guaranteed contracts on their roster (once they sign first round pick Sam Dekker. But they were in the conference finals less than two months ago, could be healthier this season, and just upgraded their weakest position.

Lawson’s departure allows No. 7 pick Emmanuel Mudiay to run the show in Denver, with the re-signed Jameer Nelson as his veteran back-up and mentor.

Attention-loving Porzingis made for New York City


VIDEO: First impressions of Kristaps Porzingis

LAS VEGAS — Not everything appears at it seems in this town, where fortunes can come and go in a flash and hopes can rise like the triple-digit temperatures. It’s a weird place for Kristaps Porzingis to begin selling himself as the future of the Knicks, yet he’s doing just that.

Let’s start with the one intangible that weighs heavily: Porzingis laughs easily and dismisses criticism with a disarming smile. Good. That skill will come in handy over the next year or so. In that sense, the 7-3 center from Latvia is made for the harsh city, a tabloid-fueled place that is likely to fall in love with the rookie, from a personality standpoint, even if the 19-year-old gets off to an understandably slow start.

“He handles himself well,” said coach Derek Fisher. “This kid won’t let anything get to him.”

We’re moving a bit to fast here, but if Porzingis ever becomes an All-Star someday, he will own New York more than Carmelo Anthony. A smart, funny foreigner with J. Crew looks who loves the city with all of its benefits and flaws? When’s the last time anyone could say that about a Knick?

When asked how he handled his nerves in his debut, Porzingis said quickly: “I told myself to chill out.”

His English is amazingly sharp and he carries himself well. Basically, he gets it, even at a very young age. of course, there’s still the big question: Can he play?

Well, that won’t be known in summer league, which should be taken for what it’s worth. Still, after four days in Vegas, he hasn’t backed down. He’s built like a Twizzler but isn’t afraid to mix it up. He goes in traffic with the ball and also after the ball for rebounds. He has challenged players at the rim and is showing a knack for blocking shots. Again, Summer League is all about learning if the player has the basics to survive in the NBA, and Porzingis is showing that.

The main drawback for Porzingis is his lack of strength. He’ll get easily boxed out for rebounds when the real games begin. And his dribble game is merely adequate.

The Knicks were smitten by his height, his athletic ability and his jumper, and so far have no reason to be disappointed. Porzingis has the shooting range to stretch defenses. He can be very useful in the pick-and-pop (assuming his body can withstand the pick part) and can be dangerous behind the 3-point line. And he gets to the free-throw line. Again, this is Summer League, and Porzingis is a work in progress. but the more you watch, the more you get the feeling that Phil Jackson didn’t draft the next Andrea Bargnani.

“He’s really interesting to watch and his growth is going to be interesting to see,” said Jackson. “It looks like he can hold his own out there. I think he’s going to find a comfort zone.”

OK, here’s the issue: Should Jackson have taken someone else, say Emmanual Mudiay, at No. 4? Willie Cauley-Stein? Both are also producing in Vegas and would’ve filled a need for the Knicks, who need everything.

Well, point guards aren’t too hard to find, so it’s understandable why Jackson decided to gamble on a 7-3 shooter instead of Mudiay (besides, Jackson took Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant later in the first round). Cauley-Stein, meanwhile, is every bit the project as Porzingis, although more offensively-challenged.

For the time being, the Knicks are looking rather smart and Porzingis is looking rather comfortable. For a player who didn’t get the shine of the NCAA tournament, he’s pretty popular in Vegas, and this reception will be nothing compared to what awaits in New York.

“I love the attention,” he said.

See? He fits.

 

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

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No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

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No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

***

No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Blogtable: Some Summer League musings

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


BLOGTABLE: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEOKarl-Anthony Towns reflects on achieving his NBA dream

> Las Vegas Summer League is just days away. Which rookie are you most excited to see perform on the big stage? Which veteran will most benefit from Summer League play? And, which player in Summer League in Orlando and/or Utah has most impressed you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Among the rookies in Las Vegas, I’m going straight chalk. I want an up-close look at Karl-Anthony Towns simply because he is that rarest of species this side of the Tasmanian tiger: A Timberwolves No. 1 overall Draft pick. We’ve never had one before, but most insiders believe the Wolves got it right, so I want to see more than a glimmer of potential in Vegas. … Among returning players, it’s important for Chicago’s Doug McDermott to play as well as or better than he did last summer (and he was very good). McDermott’s rookie season was washed out by injury and bench splinters, but he has a new coach (Fred Hoiberg) friendly to his style of play and he has vowed the sort of dramatic, freshman-to-sophomore improvement that wowed ’em at Creighton. … As for Orlando/Salt Lake City, Indiana’s Myles Turner has opened some eyes, averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks while hitting 14-of-22 shots in his first two games. With Roy Hibbert gone, and only Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen ahead of him on the depth chart, Turner – while needing to tighten up defensively – might grab some “stretch-5” opportunities in coach Frank Vogel‘s promised quicker attack.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: This could be the start of a decade or more of comparing Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor. At a time when people are saying it’s a “small ball” league, I want to see the big dogs hunt. Before he went down with an ankle injury, I was looking forward to seeing Dante Exum’s progress from year 1 to 2. Last year’s first round Thunder pick Mitch McGary is coming back from a fractured foot, a virtually lost rookie season and has now lost nearly 30 pounds and looking like the player OKC drafted. Have to like what Okafor showed, especially in the second half, of his first game in Utah. Along with the totally changed body of McGary, the Magic’s Aaron Gordon has come back for Year 2 with a shot, an energy level that could be contagious and an intensity that’s fun to watch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I am most interested to see Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay in Las Vegas. Karl-Anthony Towns goes somewhere high on the list as well because there’s always the added excitement of seeing the No. 1 pick, but Mudiay has faced very little competition the last year. Porzingis has been challenged, but this will be a big step in a big spotlight. The veteran who will benefit most from summer league? The one that doesn’t get hurt and plays his way into a contract somewhere. As far as Orlando and Utah, Aaron Gordon has jumped out in early play. Not exactly a veteran, but not a rookie either.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In Vegas, I’d love to see how D’Angelo Russell handles himself and how he can elevate a roster full of dreamers by making them better. It’ll be the first step in proving the Lakers did right by passing up Jahlil Okafor, or not. As for the “veteran” I suspect the Jazz would love to receive some reassurance from Dante Exum in Vegas. In Utah, Okafor had the kind of debut you’d expect from the No. 2 overall pick, especially with his soft touch around the rim. The Sixers are feeling better already. In Orlando, Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson clearly stood out. Gordon is flush with confidence after a so-so rookie season and Johnson is clearly a feisty baller, although a ‘tweener.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m curious to see D’Angelo Russell, because he’ll be handed the keys in L.A. right away. Noah Vonleh is a top-10 pick from last year who got injured in training camp, never got a chance to play with the Hornets, and could have a real opportunity in Portland. So these couple of weeks could be big for him. So far, I’ve been most impressed by Myles Turner, a skilled big who could make Pacers fans forget about Roy Hibbert pretty quickly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It will be all eyes on D’Angelo Russell in Vegas, and rightfully so. The Lakers put that on him when they passed on Jahlil Okafor. The veteran who will benefit most from summer school is Mitch McGary of Oklahoma City. He reshaped his body and is healthy and showed that his relentless motor is his greatest tool. The Thunder will be loaded with a healthy roster to start the season. I always think Summer League is a better place for second-year guys to show off the improvement in their game than it is an indicator of what’s to come from any rookie, even the ones who dazzle in summer league. Great first impressions from Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, Frank Kaminsky and Myles Turner in the early stages of summer have highlighted things for me. They all look like instant impact contributors for their respective teams, based solely on what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I want to see Kristaps Porzingis run the floor, defend and shoot from distance for the Knicks, who are desperate for young talent. Summer league is easy to dismiss but Porzingis’s blend of skills, length and agility should speak for itself – for better or for worse. I was going to cite Dante Exum as a veteran with the most to gain; but now that he has suffered a sprained ankle, I want to see whether James Young has matured defensively and off the ball for the Celtics. The breakout player so far has been Aaron Gordon, who has developed a jump shot to go with his driving athleticism.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Let’s see what Karl Anthony Towns can bring at this next level. Is he just a defender, as has been purported, or can he be a two-way player with stretch-5 range? And his teammate, Zach LaVine, was one of the most exciting players I saw a year ago in Vegas, so I’m looking forward to seeing his evolution. LaVine’s incredible explosiveness really lends itself to the pace of Summer League. One guy has stood out to me so far has been Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky. He can shoot from the outside, but also can pump fake and get to the rim and finish. He already looks ahead of their previous lottery forward, the since departed Noah Vonleh.

Blogtable: Who’s going No. 1-5?

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


BLOGTABLE: Who’s going No. 1-5? | Future for Cousins, Kings? | Riley’s pitch to Wade?



VIDEODraft HQ’s crew holds a mock draft for the first three picks

> Who are you picking 1-5 in tomorrow night’s Draft? And, which player in this year’s Draft will be its Stephen Curry (i.e. the player most consider to be the best in the Draft class) a few years from now and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI get the top five? Wow, talk about a quick rebuilding and a friendly salary-cap hit.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. Jahlil Okafor (Lakers)
3. D’Angelo Russell (Sixers)
4. Emmanuel Mudiay (Knicks)
5. Kristaps Porzingis (Magic)

I think Russell emerges as the “Curry” of this draft, by virtue of his skills and the fat opportunity he’ll have to showcase them should he wind up, as many expect, in Philadelphia. Michael Carter-Williams won a Rookie of the Year award that way.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

1. Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. Jahlil Okafor (Lakers)
3. D’Angelo Russell (Sixers)
4. Kristaps Porzingas (Knicks)
5. Emmanuel Mudiay (Magic)

Sometimes you don’t have to look past the obvious. Karl-Anthony Towns has the most varied skills to go with his size and has the most upside in the draft. In a few years we’ll look back at the No. 1 pick in 2015 and say, “Of course.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIf you mean what I think should happen and not what I think will happen …

1. Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. D’Angelo Russell (Lakers)
3. Kristaps Porzingis (Sixers)
4. Jahlil Okafor (Knicks)
5. Mario Hezonja (Magic)

Towns has the highest ceiling, the best chance to impact on both sides of the ball. He won’t be the best player in two years, but he will be for the career. I might go Hezonja second, then Russell.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

1. Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. Jahlil Okafor (Lakers)
3. D’Angelo Russell (Sixers)
4. Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks)
5. Mario Hezonja (Magic)

Obviously Mudiay could be in the top 5. My “next Curry” is Cameron Payne, who like Curry is a point guard form a small school who did rather big things. That is, if all the pre-draft raves about Payne are true.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

1. Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. Jahlil Okafor (Lakers)
3. D’Angelo Russell (Sixers)
4. Emmanuel Mudiay (Knicks)
5. Kristaps Porzingis (Magic)

I’m going chalk with both answers (because my knowledge of these guys is limited), believing that Towns will ultimately be the best player from the Draft. He’s 7-feet tall, has the skills to help his team on both ends of the floor in today’s game, and is a good fit in Minnesota next to Andrew Wiggins.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

1. Karl Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. Jahlil Okafor (Lakers)
3. D’Angelo Russell (Sixers)
4. Emmanuel Mudiay (Knicks)
5. Kristaps Porzingis (Magic)

The Steph Curry of this Draft will be Justise Winslow, the most versatile and NBA ready player available in the entire pool. He’ll get the Steph Curry Award for having the game and impact most similar to what Draymond Green did for Curry and the recently crowned champion Golden State Warriors. Winslow is the best potential two-way player in this Draft (I’m thinking Jimmy Butler), with Arizona’s Stanley Johnson ranking just behind him in my book. That means something in the small-ball, pace-and-space evolution/revolution that’s going on right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

1. Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. D’Angelo Russell (Lakers)
3. Kristaps Porzingis (Sixers)
4. Jahlil Okafor (Knicks)
5. Mario Hezonja (Magic)

Russell figures to be rookie of the year, but Towns should be the best player based on his potential to lead his NBA team defensively while providing versatile offense.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

1. Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves)
2. Jahlil Okafor (Lakers)
3. D’Angelo Russell (Sixers)
4. Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks)
5. Emmanuel Mudiay (Magic)
I’m not sure that there is a player like Curry, in the sense that a player is passed up by a few teams and matures into being the best player in his class. To me, Towns is the clear best player in the Draft, and it seems like he’ll go No. 1. Some of the other guys may be great at one facet or another, but I think Towns has the ability to be the best all-around player.

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 204) Featuring Isaiah Austin

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Draft night in the NBA, where hoop dreams are realized, dashed and smashed all on the same night.

For guys like Karl Anthony-Towns, Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and others Thursday night in New York will a night like no other. The pomp and circumstance for the top picks is guaranteed. For those on the fringes, however, there isn’t a more anxiety-filled night in their basketball lives.

Draft projections only matter up until that first name is called and the action kicks off.

That’s when things get real.

Isaiah Austin knows this better than most, having come so close to realizing his dream only to have it snatched away moments before it could be realized. The former Baylor center and projected lottery pick was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the heart. The diagnosis ended Austin’s playing career.

Credit NBA Commissioner Adam Silver with the save of Draft night last year. He made sure Austin heard his name called, selecting him between the 15th and 16th picks in the first round as an honorary pick for the NBA. Silver made sure Austin was honored properly, complete with the embrace and hat ceremony with the Commissioner for all the world to see.

Austin has since made his mark on the game, continuing his education at Baylor while also working with the program, staying connected to the other players of his generation (Mudiay is one of his closest friends) and serving as an inspiration to others around the world. He details his story in his new book, “Dream Again: A Story of Faith, Courage, and the Tenacity to Overcome,” which was released today.

We talk with Austin, stroll down Draft memory lane (and allow Rick Fox to relive his glory days as the 24th pick of the 1991 Draft — if we re-Drafted today he insists he should be the No. 1 pick over the likes of Larry Johnson, Kenny Anderson, Dikembe Mutombo, HTP fave Steve Smith and several other standouts) and debate the merits of a process with so many built-in pitfalls that no one should have to work under such pressure, and much, much more on Episode 204 of The Hang Time Podcast Featuring Isaiah Austin …

 

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: Emmanuel Mudiay, a close friend of Isaiah Austin, is easily one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s NBA Draft

Morning shootaround — June 6


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Kyrie Irving’s injury

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kyrie Irving has fractured kneecap, out for Finals | LeBron: I’m not ‘discouraged‘| Tom Thibodeau has ‘no regrets

No. 1: Kyrie Irving has fractured kneecap, out for Finals — When Kyrie Irving limped off the floor during overtime of Game 1, he did his best to mask the pain he was clearly experiencing. One day later, after an MRI, it’s worst fears realized for Irving and the Cavaliers. The Cavs announced yesterday that Irving suffered a fractured kneecap and will miss the remainder of the postseason. Irving’s injury will require surgery, which typically has a 3-4 month recovery period. While Irving missed several playoff games dealing with tendinitis in his left knee, the Cavaliers say this injury is unrelated. As Irving himself posted on Instagram

I want to thank everyone for the well wishes. Saddened by the way I had to go out but it doesn’t take away from being apart of a special playoff run with my brothers. Truly means a lot for all the support and love. I Gave it everything I had and have no regrets. I love this game no matter what and I’ll be back soon. To my brothers: You already know what the deal is. And to Delly: “ICE it down del” *Big Perk voice *

***

No. 2: LeBron: I’m not ‘discouraged‘ — With Irving out, along with Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs may not be able to get things to go their way. But LeBron James has been around long enough to have seen plenty before, and according to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, LeBron isn’t discouraged by being down a game in the Finals …

In his storied career with 12 seasons nearly complete, James can say he has and has not been in this situation before. The odds were already long for a Finals triumph and now they’re longer, but if there is a player with the skills and experience to navigate this situation, it’s James.

He’s 1-5 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and his Cavs lost Game 1 (and Game 3) of the conference semifinals to the Bulls.

In Miami, where James won two titles and played in four Finals, both championships followed defeats in Game 1. He battled through playoffs at times with a hobbled Dwyane Wade (who missed one playoff game with James) and an injured (as in, out for nine games) Chris Bosh.

But James never lost Wade and Bosh at the same time, like he has here with Irving and Kevin Love. And yet, when the Cavs lace them up for Game 2 Sunday, it will not be the first time James takes the floor in a playoff game without his two Cleveland wingmen.

Irving, of course, has been battling foot and left knee issues for weeks. When the Cavs trailed the Bulls 2-1 in the conference semis and Irving was clearly hurting, James talked about “not being shattered” around teammates in what appeared to be a bleak moment.

Then James went out and won Game 4 with a turnaround jumper at the buzzer, not dissimilar from the shot he missed against the Warriors.

Irving missed two full games in the conference finals against Atlanta. Cleveland won both of those games and James nearly averaged a triple-double in the series.

“There are a few things that you would love to have going late in the season,” James explained. “That’s being healthy, having a great rhythm, and then you need a little luck as well. We’ve had a great rhythm. We haven’t had much luck, and we haven’t been healthy.

“But I haven’t gotten discouraged.”

***

No. 3: Tom Thibodeau has ‘no regrets‘ — It’s been a few days since the Chicago Bulls fired coach Tom Thibodeau, ending a five-year run where the Bulls experienced plenty of success, but also plenty of bad luck. Speaking for the first time since then, Thibs said despite any issues he had with Bulls management, he wants to move forward, writes Nick Friedell…

“Obviously, there were some issues, and I don’t want to get into all that,” Thibodeau said. “I’m very proud of what the team did. … I think any time when you have a pro franchise, there’s going to be some carping that goes on along the way.”

During a news conference to announce Thibodeau’s firing, Forman and Paxson stressed the need for a better communicator and painted a picture that Thibodeau wasn’t listening to much of the input from the front office.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also issued a statement hinting that there were communication issues.

“While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions,” the statement said. “These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private. Teams that consistently perform at the highest levels are able to come together and be unified across the organization — staff, players, coaches, management and ownership. When everyone is on the same page, trust develops and teams can grow and succeed together. Unfortunately, there has been a departure from this culture.”

Thibodeau said Friday that he wasn’t worried about comments from the Bulls’ front office in the immediate aftermath after the decision was made.

“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” Thibodeau said. “I know for me, I put everything I have into each and every day. So I have no regrets. I’m going to let the record speak for itself.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is donating $5 million to his alma mater, Indiana University, for a technology center … Royce White is closing in on a return in time for Summer League … The Knicks will work out draft prospect Emmanuel Mudiay next week … Why Arn Tellem is giving up being a sports agent and joining the front office of the Detroit Pistons …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving takes spotlight at MSG | Raptors set to honor McGrady | Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt

No. 1: Irving’s big game at MSG draws compliments — Dressed in his newly released line of Nike sneakers, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving ran roughshod over the Knicks last night at Madison Square Garden. Irving totaled 37 points — including a late, clutch layup — that lifted Cleveland to its fifth straight victory and got him plenty of praise from his teammates afterward. Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes has more:

“Man, I think he’s right up there at the top and he’s still so young,” Kevin Love said. “He’s only going to get better. He does whatever we need to win and tonight it was scoring the ball. He loves the bright lights, too. He always plays well when we need it.”

After the game, head coach David Blatt referred to Irving as a two-way player. That wasn’t an applicable moniker in the past. His much-improved defense has elevated his game to different altitude.

And he’s nowhere near close to a plateau. The Garden couldn’t bottle up his unlimited ability. He was too big for the Knicks. The Big Apple got a taste of an All-Star on the rise destined to give them fits for many, many years to come.

“He has the potential to be the best guard in our league,” Tristan Thompson said. “I think he’s probably one of the most complete players in our league. His defense is getting better and that is taking him to another level.”

Entering the game, he was averaging 29.0 points at Madison Square Garden. It’s his highest scoring average in any road arena. It’s plain to see – Irving revels in the New York stage.

“Spectacular,” LeBron James described Irving’s performance. “Anytime we needed a bucket, he made it. Anytime we needed some energy, he gave it. I took over the point guard duties as far as getting guys involved and he took over the scoring. And we needed it.”

Irving has cemented himself as one of the finest finishers around the rim. He doesn’t use much athleticism to maneuver around bigger defenders in the paint. He’s simply crafty. He can make the basketball do tricks on the glass and somehow it finds its way in the bottom of the net.

It doesn’t matter which hand he goes up with, his craftiness is ambidextrous.

“I always knew he was a great finisher. I think he’s even better than what I even thought,” James said. “As far as finishing around the rim, he’s probably one of the greatest this game has ever seen. I’ve never seen someone finish how he finishes underneath the rim. It’s unbelievable. With both hands.”

***

No. 2: Raptors ready to honor McGrady tonight — About two or so weeks ago, the Memphis Grizzlies visited the Toronto Raptors in a big West vs. East showdown that had an always interesting subplot for Raptors fans: the return of Vince Carter as well. That night, the team paid tribute to Carter and the former Toronto superstar was overwhelmed with emotion during the in-game salute. Tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors will honor another former star (and subsequent favorite target of Raptors’ fans ire), Tracy McGrady. Josh Rubin of The Toronto Star has more:

T-Mac is coming back, after all.

Fourteen years after he left town to escape Vince Carter’s shadow, Tracy McGrady is getting honoured by the Toronto Raptors on Friday night as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations. McGrady, who’s in town for GM Masai Ujiri’s Giants of Africa fundraiser honouring Nelson Mandela, will be introduced to the crowd during the game. A highlight reel of his time in Toronto will also be shown.

While Carter drew an unexpected standing ovation during a video tribute last month at the Air Canada Centre, it’s unclear whether Raptors fans will be equally magnanimous with his distant cousin. Like Carter, McGrady was heavily booed in subsequent visits to Toronto after leaving the Raptors.

The talented, athletic small forward left Toronto in 2000 after the end of his three-year rookie contract. His departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Raptor fans, who had staged a vocal public campaign for McGrady to re-sign. McGrady, who had come off the bench in his first two seasons, had just become a starter, and together with Carter, helped lead the team to its first-ever playoff berth.

He went on to put superstar numbers with the Magic and the Rockets.

In a 2013 interview with the Star’s Dave Feschuk after retiring from the NBA, McGrady expressed regret for leaving what could have turned into a contender (in the 2000-01 season, the Raptors fell one game short of the Eastern Conference final).

“In hindsight, looking back, obviously I wish I had stayed in Toronto,” McGrady said. “There’s no doubt we could have contended for a championship. I think about that often.”

***

No. 3: Report: Mudiay’s future in China in doubt — As our Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out a month or so ago, NBA scouts were gearing up this season for at least one trip — and perhaps more — to China to watch top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay. The 18-year-old phenom has had a solid run for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, but an injury has sidelined him of late and has his future with the team in doubt. Adrian Wojnarowski of YahooSports.com has more:

Mudiay, a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, has missed four consecutive games with an ankle sprain and will be replaced – at minimally in the short term – with veteran NBA guard Will Bynum on Friday, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Bynum is finalizing a deal for the rest of the season in Guangdong, but has yet to sign the contract, a source said. That could come within hours, however. Chinese teams are allowed only two American players on the roster, but Bynum can replace Mudiay as the teenage American star is rehabbing his injury, sources said.

DraftExpress.com – the No. 1 site for NBA draft information – has Mudiay as the No. 2 overall projected pick in the 2015 draft.

Mudiay was unable to qualify academically to play basketball for coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University, which led to him accepting the $1 million-plus contract and an endorsement deal with Under Armour.

Mudiay, 18, has played 10 games in China, averaging 17.7 points, six rebounds and six assists. NBA executives who’ve watched him told Yahoo Sports he’s only enhanced his draft value with his performances in China so far.

It is possible that Guangdong could release Mudiay and pay him the balance of his contract, or hold onto the teenager and watch how Bynum impacts the team until Mudiay’s ankle allows him to return to the lineup. Eventually, Guangdong could make a decision on which guard to keep – and release the other. Nevertheless, it would be an immense investment to bring Bynum over on a guaranteed $1 million-plus agreement – only to use him for one or two weeks.

Mudiay has to protect his draft value, and his representatives will be exceedingly careful to make sure he doesn’t risk further injury or poor performance in China. If released, Mudiay could simply return to the United States and train in preparation to begin predraft workouts with NBA teams prior to the June draft.

NBA teams planning to scout Mudiay in China had been on hold with the uncertainty surrounding the guard’s availability. Several teams – including San Antonio and Phoenix – sent representatives to scout Mudiay early in the season, but many more curtailed planned trips in recent weeks.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo had breakfast together yesterday in Boston, and there’s really nothing more to the story than that … Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders confirms that Ricky Rubio won’t be back until at least JanuaryIvan Johnson has signed into the NBA D-League … The New Orleans Pelicans may sign ex-Mavericks point guard Gal Mekel soon … Indiana Pacers forward David West has more thoughts on the recent police-related deaths in the news

ICYMI of the Night: Remember when Amar’e Stoudemire used to do this sort of thing every night? … 


VIDEO: Amar’e Stoudemire dunks on Anderson Varejao