Posts Tagged ‘Fran Blinebury’

Blogtable: Down, but on its way up

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: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: The Jazz finally may be on the right track

> Which of these down-on-its-luck franchises strikes you as on the fastest track forward: Utah, Sacramento or Orlando?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Orlando. They strike me as having the best fit of young pieces – Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon – to develop together, if they can manage to score enough points along the way. Sacramento should have been better by now, and for every Kings player who intrigues me, there’s another who cancels out the optimism. Utah’s talent is good but a new coach and system suggests a reset of the learning curve.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Can I say Philadelphia?  Even with more bumps and plenty of pain ahead this season, the Sixers are stacking young talent and will get more from the 2015 Draft. But if you’re making me pick from these three, I’ll go with the one that has the best player. That’s the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, for all the known questions about attitude, could be a franchise-carrying talent. The Jazz and Magic are scoops of vanilla ice cream: filling but hardly exciting.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I keep wanting to believe in the Kings, to believe in DeMarcus Cousins, to believe in new ownership, new management and coach Mike Malone. But, man, they really make it hard. In Orlando, I do like their young talent, but I’m not sold on Jacque Vaughn at the helm and I think there will be a coaching change at some point. Utah has fully committed to a youth movement and I’m sold on Trey Burke and have high hopes for Dante Exum as a game-changing playmaker. Gordon Hayward has to step it up to an All-Star-caliber level, so we’ll see about that, but there’s other young, emerging talent and more picks in the trove. They got the coach question out of the way and Quin Snyder will breathe some freshness into the program. Maybe this is my West bias coming into play, but I’ll take Utah over Orlando by a smidgen.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOrlando. For one thing, the Magic are in the East, which gives them an easier path to the back of the playoff pack, even this season despite a lot of youth. For another: Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. That’s a nice foundation built on defense and rebounding. They obviously have a lot of growing to do while relying heavily on two rookies and a second-year player, but that’s a lot of potential for the fast track.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very excited about the 2-3 year prospects of any of these teams. The Kings have the best player of the three, but nothing around DeMarcus Cousins (or a clear plan of action) that says they definitely have a shot at making the playoffs in the next three years. The Magic and Jazz both have a decent collection of young talent, including rookie guards – Elfrid Payton and Dante Exum – with high ceilings, but nobody that is definitely a future All-Star. If I have to take one team, I’ll take Orlando, just because they’re in the Eastern Conference, where a playoff spot can be had with a decent amount of talent and good coaching.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of the these teams believe they have the ideal core group in place for lift off. The promise of what could be always rules the day in lottery land. The one place where I believe that there has been a true altering of the DNA for the better is in Utah. The continued stockpiling of versatile, young talent is at a point where the process can be accelerated a bit this season. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Alec Burks and even new coach Quin Snyder will operate without the added pressure of playoff expectations, which are not realistic for the Kings or Magic either. The Kings and Magic, however, are still sorting through their talent base to see who does and does not fit. The Jazz already know who and what they have.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Utah and Orlando are each inching forward, not a slowly as Philadelphia, but at intentionally deliberate paces. But from the ownership down, Sacramento seems like a team that doesn’t want to wait any longer. While Utah and Orlando each have a few nice young pieces, the Kings have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay who are further along than most of the guys in Orlando and Utah. They’ve got a new arena on the way, and there seems to be a real urgency to win and win now.

Blogtable: Concerns for the Cavaliers

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: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: Sekou Smith takes a quick look at the 2014-15 Cavaliers

> Outside of injury, what do you see as the biggest concern for the Cavs, something that might not work as anticipated? Could it keep Cleveland from the East finals?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy biggest Cav-eat, so to speak, pertains to their size. Anderson Varejao has been prone to breakdowns, Brendan Haywood is 34, Kevin Love is outside half the time and everyone else is 6-foot-9 or shorter. But Miami overcame a similar “bigs” problem in the paint and I think Cleveland will, too. If Chicago figures out how to stay healthy and fresh for the postseason, maybe that trips up the Cavs. Otherwise, LeBron James will play in his fifth consecutive Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDefense. All indications from the preseason are the Cavs have plenty of offensive firepower. But the question is whether they can stop opponents, especially in the fourth quarter. I expect that to be a running theme throughout the season.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comWithout getting too technical here, defense has to be at the top of the list, right? Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love haven’t exactly stamped their careers as being stoppers. Anderson Varejao needs to stay healthy for interior protection (sorry, you said, outside of injury). Yes, if the Cavs turn out to be a porous defensive squad and make LeBron run all over the place, it could keep them out of the East finals — that is if they’re playing the Bulls in the second round.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Just the obvious: It takes time. Grand success doesn’t always happen right away. Ask 2010-11 LeBron, the first season in Miami. The Cavaliers have some (not all) unselfish players and experience and talent, but there will be a transition period with so many new people and a new system with the coach. Maybe that transition period will be a couple months. Maybe it will be the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDefense is clearly concern No. 1. Their offense is going to be ridiculous, with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James attacking and plenty of guys to place the floor. But their best offensive lineups – James at the four and Kevin Love at the five – aren’t going to be great defensive lineups. And their interior defenders – Brendan Haywood and Anderson Varejao – have each had problems staying healthy. That’s not keeping them from the conference finals, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If we’re excluding injury and the Chicago Bulls, I’d argue the Cavs have all of the human resources to get to wherever they are aiming to go this season. Still, there are chemistry concerns for this group headlined by LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving that still bother me just days away from the start of the regular season. The sacrifices that will have to be made by not only the marquee stars but also role players like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and others should not be overlooked. This is a five-man game and the Cavs need to make sure they have the right five to ride through the regular season and into the postseason. Any glitch in that chemistry matrix could derail the championship plans.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDefense. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts and stuff to figure out for the Cavaliers this season, but I think the offense is the least of their worries. Worst case scenario, you put Kyrie on one wing and LeBron on the other and let them go one-on-one against their defenders, with Kevin Love grabbing rebounds. But defense is the one place where they can’t just get by on talent. They don’t have a rim protector, and other than LeBron, none of their starters are really known for his defensive ability. Time will tell if they’re able to implement a system where they’re able to cover for each other. A defensive deficiency may not matter in terms of escaping the Eastern Conference, but when you’re facing a team like San Antonio without a strong defense in place … well, I think we all saw how that can go.

Blogtable: Putting up big numbers

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: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?


> ‘Melo says it won’t be him. LeBron’s not worried about scoring and has other weapons. KD is hurting for awhile. Do you see a new scoring champ this year?

Carmelo Anthony (Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony
(Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comRussell Westbrook has the tools and the mentality, but he’ll be back to sharing the OKC offense with Durant soon enough. So I’m going with Houston’s James Harden, who will be able to play just selfishly enough – based on what the Rockets will need from him – to chase the scoring crown.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHello, James Harden. He’s coming off consecutive seasons of averaging more than 25 points per game (ranked 5th in 2014), the Rockets have lost a considerable bit of their punch from last year in Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin and that likely means Harden will be asked/needed to put up more shots to fill the void. He’s never had to be asked twice to shoot more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well that was nice of ‘Melo to take himself out of the scoring race, sort of how Kevin Durant bowed out late in the 2012-13 season to sort of let ‘Melo get his one scoring title. But, geez, looking at the Knicks’ roster, it seems to me that ‘Melo’s gonna have to light it up nighty. But since he says he’s out, we’ll omit him. And let’s say Durant won’t come back and take it, and surmise that LeBron James will spread the wealth with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. So go to the next guy on the list, and last year that was James Harden. With Chandler Parsons now firing 3s in Dallas, Harden has even more opportunity to pump in the points, and, quite frankly, the Rockets just might need him to score 30 a night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sets up nicely for Stephen Curry, doesn’t it? I don’t agree with Carmelo’s premise, and I won’t count Durant out, but for the sake of conversation, Curry is a solid choice with the Warriors emphasizing ball movement. Just what the rest of the league needs. Steph getting more open looks. And Paul George should be mentioned in the question among the missing. If not for the knee injury, I probably would have gone with him for the non-Melo, non-LeBron, non-KD scoring title.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI don’t believe Carmelo. Yes, he’s being asked to move the ball more in the Triangle offense. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t still get his shots or that the Knicks won’t still rely on him to carry their offense. And they’re going to need a lot of offense, because their defense will be pretty poor. I wouldn’t take Melo against the field, but he’s my pick.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. I don’t care what Carmelo thinks or says, it’s his scoring title to lose, even with the new triangle-based offense in New York. But that doesn’t mean there are not plenty of eager candidates — James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and others — willing to step into the fray and chase that top spot. The truly elite, scoring championship chasers are far and few between. There are only a handful of them playing at any given time, and even fewer of them who stay healthy long enough and stay locked in long enough and consistently enough to stay in the mix for an entire season. Triangle or not, it’s ‘Melo’s title to lose.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Kobe? Have you watched the Lakers in the preseason? Kobe is taking a lot of shots — in the last two games combined he’s taken 45 field goals and 24 free throws. The Lakers probably aren’t going to be very good, but Kobe’s gonna be Kobe, which means he’ll keep getting buckets and will play as many minutes as he possibly can. And if he’s in the mix for scoring leader with a few months to go, that might be the only thing the Lakers have to play for.

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.

Blogtable: LeBron’s MVP challenger

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> Kevin Durant is likely out of the MVP picture, making LeBron the clear frontrunner. Who is your darkhorse MVP candidate?

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think Durant is out of MVP contention simply because he’ll miss games — if OKC were to sputter along below .500 without him, then win at an .800 clip with him, that would make all the MVP case he’d need. But I’ll play along: If James doesn’t win his fifth MVP, I’m guessing Chris Paul pushes the Clippers to something special out West and snags it. Media voters love imbuing point guards will all sorts of bonus intangibles that say “valuable” (which is why Chicago’s Derrick Rose could get back in the conversation, too).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m not sure you would label Chris Paul as a dark horse. But in the  second year under Doc Rivers and with the door opened by OKC, the Clippers could make a run at best record in the West/league and that could push CP3 over the top. Way outside in dark would be Anthony Davis, if he can somehow lead the Pelicans into the playoffs.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comStephen Curry. I’ve been a believer since the day Steve Kerr was hired that Golden State is going to have a fun and loose squad that will play the same way. They’ll maintain the defensive principles, but Kerr will usher in a much more appealing, go-go offense that is going to play right into Curry’s hands. He’s set to go bonkers, folks, and the Warriors (health be with them) will follow.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: On the assumption that by darkhorse you mean “Anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant”: Anthony Davis. The problem for Davis is that this will depend a lot on his teammates — the Pelicans are in position to make the playoffs, but if they miss, AD MVP would be a hard campaign to win. The problem for the rest of the league, meanwhile, is that he is ready to burst to the next level. He is established as a superstar into the next decade. The only question is whether that future arrives in 2014-15.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose would likely split the vote in Chicago, while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul would do the same in L.A. The Spurs are too balanced and the Pelicans won’t be good enough for Anthony Davis’ candidacy. So I’ll go with Stephen Curry, with the idea that the Warriors will improve offensively (into the top seven in efficiency) and win 50-plus games again, with Curry averaging something in the range of 25 points and 10 assists.

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI don’t know that “darkhorse” is the right word to use for what Russell Westbrook will be this season, but he’s my guy. With Kevin Durant out of the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for up to two months, Russ West will have the MVP platform that has eluded him the past couple of seasons. He’s certainly played like one at times. But there has always been the Durant factor that kept him from getting the sort of MVP love his production deserved. I know his performance comes with the high-risk, high-reward factor that has always driven his biggest critics a bit crazy. But he won’t be denied if the Thunder can stay afloat in the West without Durant the way they did last season when Westbrook was recovering from his knee surgery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Russell Westbrook? For basically his entire NBA career, Westbrook has been judged almost solely based in relation to the production of his teammate, Kevin Durant. But with Durant gone, we may finally get to see maximum Westbrook, where he can take as many shots as he wants and drive to the basket as often as he wants. Durant and Westbrook account for the bulk of OKC’s offense, so without Durant there’s a lot of making up to do. But if the Thunder manage to not just survive but thrive without Durant, it could go a long way toward proving Westbrook’s value to his squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: My dark horse is… Kevin Durant. I don’t see him out of the race, even if he’s going to miss the first 20 games of the season. But he’ll have 62 more games to show everybody he deserves the prize. He’s getting closer and closer to LeBron and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that when he’ll be back. If I have to pick a name different from LeBron and KD, then I’m going with Chris Paul: the Clippers have a new spirit thanks to Steve Ballmer and he can be the guy who guide them at the top of the West.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Tony Parker could win it! It can go down like the Oscars: you know, when an actor wins the award not for the movie that he just made, but for those he had done before that. If that’s the case, then Tony Parker could win the MVP trophy, one season after the spectacular things he did with the Spurs. It’ll help his cause if San Antonio will wrap up another 55+ season and finish at the top.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m going with Blake Griffin. His offensive repertoire expanded last season and with more improvement in his game this season he should be a top candidate. There’s more tricks to his game than just dunking, he’s now a legitimate post presence and has an expanding jump shot. The next evolution of his game could be a 3-point shot. Griffin attempted 44 threes last season, hitting just 27 percent of them, but it appears that he’s testing out a 3-point shot in the preseason. Last week he showed glimpses of an expanding shot from the corner, an element that will give his game and the Clippers’ offense a new dimension. Speaking of the Clippers, they’re a legitimate contender to win the West and that generally helps when the MVP is voted on.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Blake Griffin of the Clippers. He was in the running last season, and now is one of a real top candidate. His shooting skill seems like better than last season and he can score more points by jump shot from the perimeter this season. Kevin Durant’s injured and LeBron James will share the ball more than Heat era. So I think Griffin has a big chance to get MVP, if he keeps his condition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Chris Paul. I really believe the Clippers’ point guard, the best in the league, has to elevate his game this season if the Clippers are to go to the next level. Doc Rivers’ arrival changed the Clippers for better, but until Paul takes his game to a whole new level, these Clippers will continue to stumble in the poststeason. I think somewhere CP3 realises this as well. He will want to come out aggressive and leave his stamp on this season through an MVP performance.

Juan Carlos Campos, NBA Mexico: The theory would indicate that yes, LeBron James has a clear and relatively easy path to be the league’s MVP this year. With that said, I think that Stephen Curry is more than ready to take the leap into super stardom and compete hand to hand with “King” James to be named the most valuable this season. Already in the pre-season he’s shown signs of that – just ask Kobe Bryant.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: Blake Griffin. The Clippers and Cavs have the best roster and Blake has improved his game to an amazing level: he can dunk, shoot, rebound, assist … If LeBron relaxes a bit in Cleveland … the MVP goes to L.A.

Blogtable: The NBA’s best backcourt

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

> Lots of talk this preseason, little resolution: So, which team has the best backcourt in the NBA (when everybody’s healthy)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since you didn’t specify “starting” backcourt, I’m going with the team entry and saying the San Antonio Spurs. They’re the only defending-champion backcourt in the entire NBA. (That said, I’d love to hear Lance Stephenson answer this in an unguarded moment about himself and Kemba Walker. Would anticipate bravado and entertainment.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If they’re healthy and it’s June, I want Parker and Ginobili. Over the full 82 games, give me the dynamic talent, youth and sheer brashness of Curry and Thompson.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It’s really hard not to designate Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for this distinction, but there’s a good reason why Suns management and ownership caved and paid Eric Bledsoe all that money, right? The Bledsoe-Goran Dragic combo is my pick, just a couple of hard-nosed, hustling, penetrating, 3-point shooting, defensive-minded point guards sharing the same backcourt. In the 38 games they played together (Bledsoe missed 39 games with a knee injury), they had a 108.4 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and 97.4 defensive rating, plus a True Shooting percentage of 55.7.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comGolden State over (in no particular order) Washington, Toronto and Phoenix. That’s if you’re asking about starters. If that qualifier is off, Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili should be in any conversation that has to do with best tandems, and not just in the backcourt. The Warriors get the edge because not only are Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson electric scorers, but Thompson is the kind of defender that can check multiple positions and Curry has improved as a distributor to where he is dangerous with the pass as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll take Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is one of the two or three toughest matchups in the league, as one of the best shooters in the world, with the ball in his hands all the time. Thompson is another great shooter and a solid wing defender. But there are a ton of other backcourts — Brooklyn (if you count Joe Johnson as a two), Chicago, the Clippers, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, Toronto and Washington — who you could consider if you’re putting together a top-five list.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Everyone wants to claim top honors, even backcourts that have yet to play regular season minutes together. All things being equal and with each group at their best, I don’t know you could be more explosive and more dynamic than the group the Golden State Warriors can throw at you. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are two of the best shooters/scorers in the game. Adding a wild card like Shaun Livingston to this already potent mix (which also includes swingman Andre Iguodala) makes this the most dynamic crew in the game, in my opinion.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are three pairs of players that to me jump out as being above the rest, and I mean that in terms of their offense and their defense. in no particular order: Golden State (Curry and Thompson); Toronto (Lowry and DeRozan); Washington (Wall and Beal). If I had to pick one from that trio of duos, I’d probably go with Curry and Thompson, even though Curry’s defense can lapse below average. But I think Wall and Beal aren’t far behind them, and have the advantage of youth on their side.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Love the question! Reminds me of my NBA Jam years. Boomshakalaka! The best NBA back-court is the “Spash Brothers”, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The make a great duo, they play excellent together (in Golden State, in Team USA) and they make a deadly one-two punch from beyond the arc.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: The Warrriors with the ‘Splash Brothers’ Curry and Thompson are in the top right now. More points than any backcourt in the last regular season.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: Easy W for Golden State here. The Splash Brothers are too good together to be compared to other backcourts: high shooting and passing skills, very high basketball IQ, they can win the games by themselves or play with their teammates. I think the Wizards’ Wall-Beal backcourt can have a chance to get close to the Splash Brother this year, but they both have to improve their respective overall game.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The Splash Brothers! They scored more points per game than any other backcourt, had the best 3-point percentage and outscored their opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions when they were both on the floor. They can also exploit opponents in a number of ways. Curry may be the best shooter in the game and can hit all types of whacky shots off-the-dribble, his passing game seems to improve all the time and when he gets strong defensive coverage, he dishes it off to Klay. Thompson shot 41.7 percent from deep on 535 attempts and have improved as a perimeter defender, making up for some of Steph’s defensive lapses. Klay’s offensive game has expanded as well, including post-ups, slashing and even handling and penetrating. I just wish he’d pass more!

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I don’t see any reason why we should look at anyone else other than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the Golden State Warriors. Former head coach Mark Jackson already anointed them the greatest backcourt ever.  Those two guys played a big part in Team USA’s win at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the offseason as well. The ‘Splash brothers’ can light up at any time, turning an entire ballgame on its head.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors. Their shooting skill is one of the most dangerous in the league. They can shoot from every area on the court and make clutch shot.  Curry can handle the ball and Thompson can defend. Additionally, they can pass. If they played a 2-on-2 tournament, I think they’d beat all other teams.

Blogtable: Take a minute (or four)

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> What are your initial thoughts on a 44-minute game? What’s good? What’s bad? And what do you think of the chances of this ever being adopted?

Shorter quarters might do it, but what about fewer timeouts? (Alissa Hollimon/NBAE)

Shorter quarters might do it, but what about fewer timeouts? (Alissa Hollimon/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My first thought on the 44-minute game was, if the NBA sheds four minutes per game, how will MLB manage to add it to its average running time per nine innings? That’s the sport with the real too-long problem. As for this league, while I’m not persuaded that shaving four minutes of game action would matter much, I do think cutting the number of timeouts would help. Eleven-minute quarters won’t change the way teams coach or play the final two minutes, where most of the critics lob their complaints. Call me skeptical, too, that an 8.3 percent reduction would be applied across the board. To the 24-second clock? To the players’ salaries (they’d be working shorter shifts, especially bench guys)? To the owners’ TV revenue (fewer timeouts mean fewer cash-friendly commercial breaks)? And, ahem, to the ticket prices paid by fans?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m all for doing anything that will stop regulation time games from dragging on interminably past 2 1/2 hours and toward the 3-hour mark.  Frankly, I think that could be accomplished more effectively — and making the product better to view — by eliminating two timeouts per team, especially at the end of games.  If the NBA wants to make a move to shorten the overall time of play, I’d make the bigger cut to 10-minute quarters, bringing the game in line with FIBA rules so that game is uniform all over the world.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: There’s no need to go from 48 minutes to 44 minutes in the name of shortening the game. If this is really about player health, then find a way to shorten the season. If owners want the players they pay millions of dollars to each season to remain on the floor and not in the training room then they’ll accept a few less home gates for the good of their players and the game. There are too many back-to-backs, too many stretches of four games in five nights when it is really unnecessary. Not only does it put players at great risk of injury, it diminishes the product. In short, don’t shorten the game, shorten the season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Will teams be cutting ticket prices the same percentage on nights the clock is reduced? Otherwise, I’m not moved either way. On the overall list of things of issues worth a strong stand, I’d put it just in front of advertising on uniforms. There’s nothing wrong with giving a look during one or a few exhibition games or taking a test drive through the D-League a few times. That’s a long way from the NBA making the change during its own regular season. I don’t think it happens soon, if at all.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It would make games shorter and reduce injuries over the course of the season, but would also reduce the value of players 6-15 on every roster. I think the Players Association would have a problem with that. To reduce the time of games, I’d leave them at 48 minutes, reduce the number of timeouts (as they have in the 44-minute scenario) and adopt the FIBA rule that timeouts can only be called on dead balls or after a made basket. And to reduce injures, wear and tear and back-to-backs, I’d go to a 72-game season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After watching game after game during the FIBA World Cup (where the games are just 40 minutes long) I gained a new appreciation for the 48-minute NBA game. This 44-minute experiment splits the difference. I’m not sure there is a discernible good or bad to identify in this experimental game until I actually see the game played on the 19th. Whatever the reasons are for messing with this, and I’m sure the competition committee has plenty, I don’t know that it will dramatically impact the game the way people think in the short term. The chance of this being adopted anytime soon would appear to be slim. But if they are experimenting in exhibition games, it’s at least on the radar.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Initially, I like the concept of NBA games taking less time to play. But I really don’t like the idea of playing shorter games, particularly when you’re shortening game times by all of four minutes. What bothers me is that NBA games have always been 48 minutes long, which makes comparing stats across decades so easy to do — you always know that someone averaged however many points or rebounds per game in a 48 minute game. If the NBA is really serious about shortening game times, it’s very simple: Have fewer timeouts, fewer commercial breaks, and enforce the actual timeout lengths. Losing a minute of actual game time seems like cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m for these types of changes being trialed during the preseason, there’s no better format for it to take place but I don’t think I want it introduced. Fewer timeouts is probably a positive but I’m not for it actually coming in. Does the NBA need to be closer to the length of a college game or an international game? How long would it take for coaches to adapt tactically to the changes? Credit to Adam Silver for actively looking to try new things and deliver on proposals he has brought up but I’m not so sure this will ever come into fruition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I’m not a fan of the suggestion to be honest.  I can see the positives that come with it, namely fewer minutes per game translate into shorter playing time, which would in some way reduce the workload for players in what is a long NBA season. Also, I see this as the NBA willing to bridge the gap towards FIBA’s playing time which stands at 40 minutes. However, the not-so-good part is that fewer minutes may not necessarily translate into more rest time for key players. Instead, reserve players might see their minutes drop. And then there is the whole stats issue — how do you make comparisons between players who play 44 minutes against those who played 48 minutes? I wouldn’t know the chances of something like this being adopted, but I hope this never comes to pass.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: This is very interesting. I love NBA’s such unique and flexible idea. If the system is adopted, reducing many top players’ playing time, and they may show higher quality play. But the NBA’s 48-minute game has a long history: the 48-minute frame is not too long and not too short. So I think the game time format should not change. If the NBA wants to adopt short game time anyway, I’d rather it be the 40-minute length, like the FIBA game.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: It’s great to see the NBA taking care of issues and making experiments to solve what is perceived as a problem. But I don’t see a 44-minute game happening for real. Regular season games aren’t too long. Playoffs games are, but not in terms of playing time. Fans want less ads when watching a game on TV, not less time of their favorite star on the court. Plus, a 48-minute game is part of what makes the NBA different from FIBA basketball and its 40-minute game.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I am not a big fan of changes, despite the fact that after some years I often admit that they were for the best. The 44-minute idea is very close to the FIBA playing time (40 minutes) and the plus-8 minutes was something that always held the two worlds apart, in a more distinguished way than the Atlantic ocean. Now the trend goes somethink like “less is more,” but I don’t like that minimal aspect when we are talking about the NBA. We want more!

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain : The players will be happy about the rest, but worried about the stats. Less minutes, less points. My thoughts are they are going to have to find a way to make the game faster without reducing the total time of play.

Messina adds taste of Italy to Spurs

messina

Could Ettore Messina (left) be the Spurs’ next coach when Gregg Popovich retires? (NBAE via Getty Images)

Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.

This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.

“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”

A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.

The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.

The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.

“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Why wouldn’t you want somebody like Ettore to be around your team?”

Fact is, Messina had been around the Spurs once before. When he abruptly quit as coach of Real Madrid just before the Euroleague playoffs in the spring of 2011, Messina accepted an invitation from the Spurs to come to San Antonio and travel with the team.

After his season in L.A., a return to coach CSKA Moscow, this is more of a commitment as a full member of the coaching staff as the Spurs look for new ways to keep moving ahead in defense of their 2014 NBA championship.

It is a reunion with Manu Ginobili, 13 years after the Argentine star was the Euroleague Finals MVP for Messina’s champion team at Kinder Bologna. It was also a time when Messina first was exposed to a young teen-age prospect named Marco Belinelli.

“It is obviously special to have a chance to come to the NBA after these years and be part of a team with Manu and Marco,” Messina said. “But I know so many of the different Spurs player from their time in Europe. In a way, it is like I am coming home.

“It is very, very special to work with Pop, with this club, not only because it happens to be the champion team, but also the team that for us Europeans is closest to our way of seeing things and doing things. To have this chance to return with Manu at the end of his career, it’s very special. At my age you don’t start thinking about building a career or anything. If something happens, it happens. It doesn’t matter. Now it is only about experiences.”

For Popovich and the Spurs, it is only the next step in their determination to leave no stone unturned anywhere on the planet in order to move ahead in their education in the game. They added Messina to the staff in the same summer that they broke another barrier when they welcomed Becky Hammon as the first full-time female coach in an American men’s professional league.

“That’s just Pop,” said general manager R.C. Buford. “He’s open and he’s always hungry and searching for new things to discover about the game and different ways to coach it.”

“It was an easier decision now because Ettore has been with us before,” Popovich said. “I gave him a seat on our team plane and he’s gone on road trips with us. He’s traveled with us before.

“We talk a lot, that sort of thing. He’s a class act, a lot classier and suave than I am. He’s a sharp dude and he knows what he’s doing. Having Ettore here is great for our program and fun for me. (He’s) somebody I can bounce things off and same generation kind of thing.”

Messina has watched from a distance as Popovich exercised his basketball world view and assembled his “Foreign Legion” lineup, using the style and many of the passing game principles that have been a staple of the international game.

“We had to play that style in Europe and South America because we don’t have the kind of size, strength and athleticism in the game that exists in the United States,” Messina said. “I am talking about a generalization, of course. We learned that if we were going to win against those kinds of players, we would have to use skills — passing, keeping the ball moving, shooting, so many of the fundamentals. Those are all the things that Pop teaches here with the Spurs. I must say, it was a joy as a coach to watch the way they played last year, especially in the playoffs. Now I am an assistant coach back at the first step, trying to learn everything.”

Messina says his first experience with the Spurs and now his daily training camp routine in San Antonio continues to dispel many myths that Europeans have about the NBA.

“The thought over there is that the Americans don’t work, that it is all about the individual, about just using physical talent,” he said. “Most people over there think that we worked harder. That is not true. There is a great deal of individual work here in the NBA by players trying to get better. There is concentration on player development by the teams. If you watched the USA team (last) month in the World Cup, you know that wasn’t just a group of All-Stars. That was a team. That’s what Pop has put in place here. Everyone talks here about the ‘European style’ that the Spurs play. You know what? We really spend a great deal of time watching film and studying the Spurs and Pop’s offense.”

With Popovich at 65 and Messina 10 years younger, it might not be so far-fetched to think this could be the progression of the reigning champs’ global evolution — the grooming of the first foreign-born head coach.

It is, after all, how the Spurs conquered the basketball world, one dribble, one country at a time.

Joseph gets another chance to prove his point for Spurs


VIDEO: Relive Cory Joseph’s highlights from 2013-14

Cory Joseph spent much of his first two NBA seasons wearing out a path along I-35 in south Texas. He’d been drafted by the Spurs in 2011, but got most of his playing time in the NBA D-League with the Austin Toros.

Last season in the Spurs march to the championship Joseph was part of the band, but stayed mostly in the rhythm section as Patty Mills stepped into the spotlight with his Finals play.

Now with Mills on the shelf through at least the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, the 23-year-old Joseph will enter the season as the clear backup to Tony Parker at point guard.

“Every time I go out on the court, I look at it as an opportunity,” said Joseph, a 23-year-old Texas-ex entering his fourth NBA season. “All I can do is prepare the best I can for when game time comes.”

The truth is Joseph gets the job almost by default. There’s only one other point guard to training camp and, in order to keep the rookie Bryce Cotton, the Spurs would have to cut one of the 15 guaranteed contracts already on the roster.

“He’s done well in that role in the past, so I look forward to him doing that again,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

While he played in 68 games last season — averaging 5.0 points, 1.7 assists and 13.8 minutes per game — Joseph’s time diminished during the playoff run (right as Mills’ star was rising against the Miami Heat in The Finals).

The Spurs feel comfortable with Joseph as the only pure backup point because they also have Manu Ginobili to be the ball handler/director of the offense with the second unit.

In February 2013, when Parker was injured, Joseph became the Spurs’ starting point guard. In his first five starts, averaged 8.8 points and 2.6 assists while shooting 58.6 percent.

“I feel comfortable now on the team and in the offense and the system and I’ll play any role and do whatever they ask of me,” Joseph said. “I’m not looking at it like ‘this is my big chance.’ It’s always your chance every day you come to practice and show that you are capable of doing your job. That’s what you want to do — prove to the coach that he can trust you.”

With his aging core of Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, no coach in the league relies on his bench more than Popovich. He kept so tight a rein on minutes last season that the Spurs became the first team in NBA history to not have a single player average 30 minutes per game. That makes those backup roles even more critical.

Joseph spent the summer working his shot and his overall game, knowing that he’d be needed to do more. The opportunity comes at a time when Joseph — like Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard – is eligible for a contract extension by the Oct. 31 deadline. If he is not signed to a new deal by then, he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer.

“I have an agent and that’s his job,” Joseph said.

Joseph claims won’t even won’t be the least bit distracted by what could happen.

“I don’t think about that stuff,” he said. “I just play.”

This is his chance.