Posts Tagged ‘Fran Blinebury’

Summer Dreaming: D Player of the Year

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

There are so many different ways to fully embrace the dog days of summer. One is to fire up the grill and start cooking. Another is to keep that blender full of ice.

Here, we’re talking basketball. The season openers are still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead. So here are my Summer Dreaming choices for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year.

Send me your picks.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — If you don’t think he’s a game-changer, then you weren’t paying attention last spring when the Serge Protector missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were able to run a virtual lay-up line through the heart of the OKC defense. When Ibaka returned from a calf injury, all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy for Tony Parker and his friends to get to the basket and the series was quickly tied up 2-2. Ibaka protects the rim, contests jumpers and puts the bite into the Thunder. He’s continuing to blossom as an offensive force, but it’s his defense that is the glue of the Thunder. He led the league in total blocks for the fourth straight time last season and has been voted to the All-Defensive first team three years in a row. It’s finally his turn to get the big hardware.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Was it really fair to bring him into the league carrying comparisons to the legendary Bill Russell? Well, maybe if you watch the highlight video from last season. With coach Monty Williams taking the shackles off his playing time, A.D. showed many of the skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. For all that he was able to do with the ball around the basket, it was the defensive plays that dropped your jaw to the floor. He guarded the paint. He cut off baseline drives. Davis seemed to swoop in from out of nowhere to reject even 3-point attempts from the corner. No place on the court was safe from the ballhawking shot-blocker. Now with rim-protecting center Omer Asik at his back, Davis might really cut loose challenging shots. That’s just scary.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – He practically owned this award, winning it three straight times from 2009-2011 in Orlando, but that was before everything went south with the Magic and he had to overcome back problems and questions about commitment to the game. Howard arrived for his first season in Houston fit and ready to re-establish himself. By the end of 2013-14 there were no more questions about his health and desire to get back to the old form. Howard’s 2.83 blocks per game led the league as he returned to being a stopper anyplace around the basket. He’s got 10 years of NBA experience but is still just 28. There’s no reason that the Rockets can’t count on him to be the defensive anchor in their push to be true contenders in the Western Conference.

Joakim Noah, Bulls — Defense can’t always be measured by numbers and quantified with stats. As the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Noah blocked just 1.4 shots per game. But he had a nose to go after every shot at the rim, was firm in guarding the pick-and-roll and with his sheer energy and physical force was as disruptive as a twister to any opposing offense. He’s hungry, he’s relentless, he’s challenging the ball anywhere on the court, he’s the epitome of the attitude that coach Tom Thibodeau wants and is at the heart of the Bulls defense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season. You can’t ever ignore Noah. He simply won’t let you.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The Clippers’ big man got special attention from the boss in coach Doc Rivers’ first season in L.A. and it paid off tremendously. Rivers expected more from Jordan, demanded more … and usually got it. Jordan’s sixth NBA season produced dramatic improvement as he accepted responsibility to be a core performer. He finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.54) and third in rebounding (12.5). One of the main reasons that point guard Chris Paul can spend so much time jumping passing lanes looking for steals and the Clippers can be so aggressive on the perimeter is because they know they’ve got Jordan watching their backs with those long, lethal arms.

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

> Which player who already has switched teams this offseason will best flourish with his new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m surprised there isn’t a “besides LeBron” qualifier on this, since James outflourishes pretty much everyone every year. He’s my easy answer in his first season back in Cleveland. After that, the guy who ought to flourish most is Lance Stephenson, since he’s a little older (presumably a little more mature) and will get every opportunity to be Charlotte’s go-to guy. But I’m not sure I trust him yet to fully “get it.” So I’ll say Spencer Hawes, Clippers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you are the best player in the game, you flourish wherever you go, which is why the easy answer is LeBron James, the returning, conquering hero who will put the Cavaliers immediately into title contention in the Eastern Conference.  But I also think Pau Gasol is a perfect complement on the Bulls front line with Joakim Noah and I’ve got an eye on the venerable Vince Carter, who could be the wing scorer that lifts the Grizzlies into the upper half of the West race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m going a bit off the radar here with Jameer Nelson in Dallas, a re-tooled team that believes it could be top-four in the West. He’s been in such a tough situation the last few seasons, from the “Dwightmare” to Stan Van Gundy‘s firing to a total rebuild, that getting to the veteran-laden Mavs will be a breath of fresh air. Plus, he’s a great fit. Dallas badly needed a starting point guard after losing Jose Calderon in the Tyson Chandler trade. Nelson eliminates the need to start Raymond Felton and allows Devin Harris to come off the bench. Offensively, Nelson just has to be steady. He’s got weapons all around in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Defensively he’ll provide some much-needed tenacity. Nelson’s only 32 and with good health he very well could put himself back on the radar.

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson joins Charlotte for the 2014-15 NBA season. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson flourished last season in Indiana, so it’s not like this will be a breakout season. But the move to Charlotte opens possibilities he will reach a new level, certainly statistically beyond the 13.8 points a game last season. It lines up as a perfect opportunity. He will be especially motivated to prove the Pacers wrong for not spending more to re-sign him, and now Stephenson goes to a team that needs more scoring. He can do that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Other than LeBron James, right? Lance Stephenson looks like a great fit in Charlotte, with the ability to give their offense a boost. He’s improved dramatically over the last two seasons, will still be only 24 years old when training camp opens, and likes to get out on the break, where his new team wasn’t very effective last season. With a top-10 defense, Al Jefferson, and now two guys who can create off the dribble, the Hornets will be fun to watch … and very good.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like how you excluded Kevin Love from this question, keeping us all from picking the same guy. And I’ll even refrain from choosing LeBron James, the most obvious choice of the century. I think Pau Gasol will ease into an opportunity to recharge his career. He looked worn out and worn down during his final seasons in Los Angeles. He’s still an unbelievably skilled big man with plenty left in his tank. The idea of Gasol and Joakim Noah working in tandem with a healthy and rejuvenated Derrick Rose should have folks in Chicago fired up. Gasol is free from the pressure of trying to be something he was not in Los Angeles. Expectations went through the roof for him after winning back-to-back titles alongside Kobe Bryant. When injuries and uncertainty changed the mood in LA, Gasol struggled with that burden. Rose and Noah are the leaders in Chicago. All Gasol has to do is what he does best, and that’s play the game he loves without any extra Hollywood drama involved.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player who has the best chance to make an immediate impact is Pau Gasol. The last few years he’s slipped defensively, but in Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defensive system in Chicago, they should be able to game plan around Pau’s deficiencies and get the best out of him. But it’s offensively where I think he could really shine. Gasol is on record as preferring to work in the post, which is probably fine with the Bulls as Joakim Noah is so effective at the top of the key, giving Gasol plenty of room to operate down low. And Gasol and Noah are probably the two best passing big men in the NBA, and together, with Rose and Butler and other guys cutting off of them, this may be the first time in a while the Bulls will be able to mount a powerful attack on both ends of the court.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: You mean “which player that hasn’t won two rings, isn’t considered the best around the globe and isn’t having a good time in Greece right now”? When you have LeBron James changing jerseys, then you have the answer in all your questions.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s been plenty of positive cases of players moving on in free agency with the opportunity to flourish with their new team. If I have to pick one, I’ll take Pau Gasol after signing with the Chicago Bulls. Gasol’s last few seasons in LA were tough, albeit productive, and now he can find himself on a team that really values his skills. I’m looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joakim Noah. They could legitimately become the best-passing big man duo in the NBA. Gasol’s varied offensive game will get the opportunity to shine in Chicago because he’ll be playing with an unselfish center in Noah. He has a nice back-to-the-basket game with varying moves, he’s still a decent mid range shooter and as always, he’ll look to set up his teammates. Gasol’s ability to operate and pass in tight spaces will work perfectly with Noah. The Bulls’ offense will look less cramped with four perimeter players surrounding one pick-setting big in Noah. They’ll be a lot better to watch offensively in 2014-15 and a lot of that is down to Gasol.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Lance Stephenson will surely relish his role with the Charlotte Hornets. He will be one of their main ball-handlers and creators. Stephenson has showed flashes of overall dominance when he gets it going and he will have more chances to prove his worth with his new team. Also a trio of small forwards will be do well in their new teams, that would be Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons for the Wizards, Rockets and Mavericks respectively. Pierce will be the veteran leader Washington needs, Ariza will be the do-it-all forward for Houston while Parsons will hopefully be the second scoring option to Dirk in Dallas (or third, depending on where Monta fits in this year).

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

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: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

> With Kobe healthy and playing like he was, say, two years ago, are the Lakers a playoff team this season? Why (or why not)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat Charles said. It’s over for the Lakers as a playoff team as currently constructed. They dare not use Kobe Bryant as heavily as they were before his Achilles injury, unless they’re looking for a way for insurance to pay a chunk of his noxious salary, for he surely would break down again. And he doesn’t have enough help, not in the West, not to be taken seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, a pair of All-Stars, joining him in the starting lineup, Kobe was pushing his body to the the limit two years ago — and still the Lakers barely made it into the playoffs. He’d played 92 consecutive minutes in two games on the night his Achilles tendon blew out. Howard left. Now Gasol is gone. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle hardly fill their shoes. Steve Nash is broken and you just can’t sell me that Swaggy P is a difference maker. If Kobe can drag the Lakers to the No. 8 seed, it would be one of the great achievements of his career. But there aren’t enough margaritas left in the summer to get me to the point where I’d see that happening.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think so. First off, which team that finished in the top eight is going to drop out? The bottom three teams — Golden State, Memphis, Dallas — all seem to be better off. Phoenix and New Orleans should continue to improve and challenge for a playoff spot. Anybody envision Portland or Houston free-falling out of the playoffs (barring significant injury)? Secondly, the Lakers roster is an odd mix of talent cobbled together after the franchise was shunned by the summer’s top free agents. Only then did L.A. hire new coach Byron Scott. If they do make the playoffs, mark me down for Scott as Coach of the Year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. Because they finished 22 games out of the playoffs last season and would need Kobe playing like he was eight or 10 years ago to come close to making up that difference when there are so many holes in other places. Because it’s not easy to identify a 2014 playoff team in the West that will drop out and Phoenix and New Orleans are easily ahead of the Lakers and the other hopefuls for “next in” predictions. And healthy or not, Kobe will still be 36. He can still be good, and anyone who counts him out right now is making a mistake, but he can’t be enough to lift this team that high.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Absolutely not, because their defense is going to be awful and the Western Conference is too good. The last time Kobe was healthy, he was pretty efficient offensively, but was often the source of L.A.’s defensive breakdowns. And at 36 years old and coming off of two leg injuries, he may be the best defender in the Lakers’ backcourt this season. The frontline, meanwhile, is lacking guys who erase mistakes on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. You are asking if we can put Kobe in a time machine and have him play healthy the way he did two years ago would this current Lakers’ crew be a playoff team, which is wholly unfair to Kobe and all of the players who will join him on this team. The Lakers from two years ago have been scattered to the wind. Dwight Howard is in Houston. Pau Gasol is in Chicago. Earl Clark is in … sorry Earl. The fact is, as good as the Western Conference was two years ago, it took Kobe pushing himself to the brink to help the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs with the eighth and final spot. The Western Conference is better and deeper now than it was two years ago. The Lakers, quiet frankly, are not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are not. Two years ago they squeaked into the playoffs, and that was with Kobe literally breaking himself down the stretch to try and will them into the postseason. They made it, Kobe didn’t. Even if Kobe is 100 percent this season, his supporting cast isn’t as strong as that 2012-13 team, that still had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. This year’s Lakers team should see a rotation around Kobe including Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin. But in a stacked Western Conference, I just don’t think that’s enough firepower to carry these Lakers to the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Let’s be honest. Nobody can expect that Kobe will play like he used to. Many players have defeated injuries in the past, but none managed to beat Father Time. Bryant is 36 and that’s the bad news. Answering the “if” question, I think that the Lakers can become a playoff team, because Kobe has proven himself as a leader of a team that revolves around him. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Boozer will play (especially if he will be used at the 3 spot) and what kind of impact will Julius Randle, potentially one hell of a scoring big man, will have.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: They’re a better team with Kobe Bryant but I certainly don’t think they’re a playoff team. The West is so competitive right now that it would take a monumental effort for an aging Kobe to take this team all the way to the playoffs. Aside from, say, Phoenix, a lot of those borderline playoff teams like Dallas and potentially Memphis have improved in the offseason so you could legitimately have a 45-47 win team miss out on the playoffs again. Can you see the Lakers winning 48 games? It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try though, he’s probably the only guy in the organization with a ferocious win-now edict, while the rest of the organization looks to preserve money, sign guys on short-term deals and look ahead to free agency in 2015. Also, are there multiple defensive stoppers on this Lakers team? Didn’t think so.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Yes, if they stay healthy; that is the biggest issue they have the last two years. I think their rotation at the bigs this year is better with a healthy Jordan Hill and new additions; veteran Carlos Boozer, athletic forward Ed Davis and highly touted rookie Julius Randle. Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Clarkson will provide the help at the wings with specific strengths to their games to complement Kobe while Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash form a good combination at point guard. Although they will be at a disadvantage on defense they will surely be great on the offensive side of the court. But the main reason is Kobe himself: a healthy ‘Black Mamba’ is a complete player who will provide leadership, clutch shooting, defense and scoring outbursts thereby taking over some games.

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line. (more…)

Summer Dreaming: Sixth Man of Year


VIDEO: Clippers’ Crawford wins 2014 KIA Sixth Man of the Year Award

When everybody else is floating on a raft sipping from an umbrella drink in the dog days of the offseason, they’re the ones you can usually find sweating it out in the confines of a hot gym.

They are those role players with the rough edges, sharp teeth that can come off the bench to leave a mark on a game. So our next stop in the Summer Dreaming series looking ahead at award winners for the 2014-15 season is our top five choices for Sixth Man of the Year.

Send us your picks.

Taj Gibson, Bulls — The big man coming off the Bulls bench felt snubbed when he finished as runner-up to two-time winner Jamal Crawford last season and that’s likely to drive him even harder this time around. All good news for coach Tom Thibodeau, who’ll have a stuffed starting lineup with the return of Derrick Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol. Gibson has always been a defensive force and now he’s coming out of his offensive shell, averaging 13 points per game last season to go along with 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Seems he’s had a change in mindset or an upgrade in confidence and is willing and able to take his game straight at opponents. He’s never going to be a big scorer, but that’s not what Chicago needs him from. Gibson brings a blue-collar attitude, a nose for the ball and the kind of toughness that only becomes more valuable in the playoffs. Joakim Noah gets all the attention for his physicality, but Gibson backs down from nobody.

Vince Carter, Grizzlies — Back in those turn-of-the-millennium days when the high flier was placing his elbow on the rim in jaw-dropping fashion to win the slam dunk contest at the 2000 All-Star Weekend, how many thought Carter would still be relevant, let alone still excelling nearly a decade and half later? But at 37, he can still attack the basket and finish when necessary and can fill it up from behind the 3-point line in his transition from starter to sixth man. Now he’s in Memphis, where it seems the Grizzlies have been searching in the woods for eons to find the right perimeter shooter to balance an inside-oriented attack that depends too heavily on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Carter steps into the role filled by Mike Miller last season and will likely do it better. In a summer when the change of addresses by the high profile likes of LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love are getting all the attention, this is a below-the-radar move that could vault the Grizzlies back into the thick of the fight in the rugged Western Conference.

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — In what was supposed to be a bounce-back attempt, things did not start out well for Evans last season. But as injuries took their toll on the Pelicans roster, he slowly became comfortable and grew into their most potent weapon not named Anthony Davis. He stuffed the stat sheet, averaging 14 points, 5.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, and had plenty of nights when he stepped up to carry the full load while playing a variety of positions. Assuming that a healthy Jrue Holiday returns to be the starter at the point and needs the ball in his hands, Evans is best suited to coming off the bench again and leading the charge with the second unit. Last season New Orleans’ best five lineups all had Evans on the court, playing either at shooting guard or small forward. When he gets it going, he can be unstoppable doing a lot of different things and, if he can add a dash of defense and consistency to his game, could become a younger version of San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili.

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – The man himself, who has probably only won this award once in his 12 NBA seasons because he’s established such a high bar and delivered with such consistency that we — and the voters — tend to take him for granted. Frankly, he should already have retired the trophy. After having his body break down and force him to ponder retirement in 2013, Ginobili bounced back last season to remain fit and delivered his most inspired play during the Spurs’ run to the championship. Yes, his numbers are down significantly from 2007-08, the only time he was recognized as Sixth Man of the Year. But that’s only because coach Gregg Popovich has cut down significantly on his minutes to preserve his health, prolong his career and keep the window open for more years of title contending by his veteran team. At 37, Ginobili is always just one misstep away from an injury that could sit him down and take away his explosiveness. But as long as that body holds up, he’ll be the straw that stirs the margarita in San Antonio and the stick by which all current sixth men in the league are measured.

Dion Waiters, Cavaliers — It’s been a rocky start to the third-year guard’s NBA career. The questions about his relationship with Kyrie Irving. The questions about whether he could be moving on to another team. With a touch that runs hot and cold like the water in a cheap apartment building, he’s hardly a high-percentage shooter. But Waiters has the talent and the explosiveness to take his career to the next level, and now that LeBron James is returning to Cleveland it looks like he’s going to get the chance. The presence of James as mentor could have a calming effect and get Waiters to focus on the big picture rather than find reasons to be upset. With a starting lineup that includes James, Irving and Love, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities to come off the bench and show that he gets it. He’s shown that he can make clutch plays with the ball in his hands. If Waiters understands and plays the team game, everybody wins.

Summer Dreaming: Most Improved Player


VIDEO: Is Giannis Antetokounmpo primed to make an even bigger splash?

Pass the sunblock, turn up the music and bring some more ice for those cold drinks on these hottest days.

While we’re still making notes on our viewing calendar about the best match-ups to watch on the just released NBA schedule for the new season, the fantasy party goes on as we jump into the pool with our five Summer Dreaming candidates for Most Improved Player in 2015.

Send us your picks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — The word that best described the “Greek Freak” as a rookie last season was raw. He showed the length, the athleticism, all the physical gifts to one day take the step from bundle of potential to a bonafide star. He’s still young and has plenty of time to mature. But based on the commitment he says he’s willing to make and his performance at Summer League, there might not be anything holding back Antetokounmpo from making that jump quickly. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and shot 37 percent from behind the arc in Las Vegas. Now that he’ll have Jabari Parker likely occupying the power forward spot in the Bucks lineup, he’ll be free to run the floor, attack the basket and fill it up from almost anywhere. The Freak Show could take off.


VIDEO: Bradley Beal discusses his breakthrough season and looks ahead to upcoming season

Bradley Beal, Wizards – The improvement from Year One to Year Two was already showing. Then Beal gave us a glimpse of what he can do at the next level when he stepped it up in the first round of the playoffs by averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Bulls. Now he and backcourt partner John Wall not only have that valuable experience, but also the sting of being cut from Team USA tryouts this summer as added fuel to the fire. The loss of Trevor Ariza means that Beal will not only have to contribute more on offense, but also make a bigger commitment at the defensive end. A big step up for a breakout season could put the Wizards in the battle at the top of the Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ Top 10 plays of 2013-14

Anthony Davis, Pelicans – Here’s the scary one, because of the high level he’s already achieved, yet the potential is there for Davis to contend for Most Improved and Most Valuable Player at the same time. Turned loose last season by coach Monty Williams, he showed that there are few things he’s not capable of doing in a game, if he can stay healthy. The only real thing lacking was somebody to watch his back. Now the Pelicans have added center Omer Asik as a rim protector and fellow defensive force in the paint and that means Davis can be even freer to move out from the basket to wreak havoc. He’s only 22 years old and the party in the French Quarter has just begun.


VIDEO: Will All-Star weekend become a new home for Victor Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo, Magic — OK, end of the experiment. No more trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole. There will be times and situations when Oladipo can handle the point for short stints. But now that they’ve got rookie Elfrid Payton in the lineup, Orlando’s previous top draft pick can concentrate more on slashing and attacking the basket and doing all of the things that can make him a force. He put up decent numbers in his first year and his turnover rate was quite high. That’s because he was playing an uncomfortable role much of the time. Now you take off the handcuffs, turn him loose and let him fly.


VIDEO: Kemba Walker notches second career triple-double

Kemba Walker, Hornets – On one hand, a guy who averaged nearly 18 points a game last season might not seem a likely candidate for Most Improved. But the third year wasn’t quite the charm for Walker as he had to accommodate the arrival of big man Al Jefferson in the middle. His shooting suffered and there were far fewer times when his offense lit up the scoreboard. The arrival of free agent Lance Stephenson as a fierce defender and good playmaker will create more chances for Walker. The addition of P.J. Hairston, another good shooter from the perimeter, will give him more opportunities for assists, which have been steadily climbing.

Half-century club: Top scorers of 2013-14

If you wanted to see points piled up as high as the Himalayas in 2013-14, the team to watch was in Charlotte. Not because the Bobcats were much of a threat to fill up the basket themselves. They ranked just 24th in offense.

But the Bobcats did give up the two highest-scoring individual games of the season, letting Carmelo Anthony explode for 62 points on Jan. 24 and then, six weeks later, becoming the victims when LeBron James went off for 61.

In all, there were a half dozen games last season when the half-century mark was topped. Not surprisingly, two of the others were by Kevin Durant, who won his fourth scoring title.

One thing to keep in mind. It helps to hit the long ball. In those six games, the big guns hit 38-for-65 (58.5 percent) on 3-pointers.

Here are the six games that cracked the 50-point barrier:

6. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Jan. 25, 2014 vs. L.A. Clippers — 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Ross’  big night

The crowd at the Air Canada Centre might have been less surprised that night had a UFO landed at mid-court. After all, Ross, a second-year guard who was the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, came into the game with a career best of 26 points. He blew through that by connecting on 10-for-17 3-pointers. It still wasn’t enough as the Raptors fell 126-118 to the Clippers. It was the only plus-50 game last season that came in a loss.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
March 21, 2014 at Toronto Raptors — 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 8-for-20 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

This was familiar ground for Durant, becoming his fourth-career 50-point game and the second time he eclipsed the half-century mark in the season. Durant had to pull the load after Russell Westbrook was lost to injury in the third quarter, carrying the Thunder by scoring 38 points after the intermission in a 119-118 double-overtime victory.

4. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets — 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FG)


VIDEO: Brewer’s big night

How does a nine-year veteran with a career-scoring average of 10 points per game light up the scoreboard for five times that much? Well, it helps to be going up against the whipped-cream soft defense of the Rockets’ James Harden. Brewer just kept attacking the basket, making 19 of 30 shots and 11 of 15 at the free-throw line. Of all the players in the list, he made the least use of the 3-point line, hitting only 2-for-6 behind the arc. The Wolves beat the Rockets, 112-110.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jan. 17, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors — 54 points (19-for-28 FG, 5-for-9 3 PT FG)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

It wasn’t long after Westbrook suffered a setback with his knee and went back onto the shelf when Durant lit up the early part of the new year with his own special brand of fireworks. OKC certainly need all that K.D. could deliver on a night when the Splash Brothers of Golden State were lighting it up themselves — Steph Curry with 37 and Klay Thompson 26. On his way to a fourth NBA scoring title, Durant had more than enough in his tank to come through for a 127-121 victory.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: James’ big night

Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins might have been the only one on the planet who was not impressed when the game’s current best player had the biggest night of his career. Wilkins criticized the Bobcats’ defense and their effort. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive that LeBron had the highest field-goal percentage (66.7) in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal hit 60 on 68.6 percent shooting back in 2000. James tied his career high with eight 3-pointers and set Heat records with 25 points in a quarter and 22 FGs in a game in the 124-107 win. It’s what they’ll moon over in Miami when he’s missing this season.

1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Jan. 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Anthony’s big night

There have been a lot of games played in the history of the NBA, but few demonstrations of shooting proficiency that topped Melo on the night he set scoring records for the Knicks and for Madison Square Garden. He was a sizzling 23-for-35 (65.7 percent) overall, 6-for-11 behind the 3-point line and a perfect 10-for-10 on free throws. Oh, and he didn’t commit a single turnover. The fact is that if the Knicks weren’t cruising to a 125-96 win over the Bobcats, Anthony likely could have gone much higher. He had 56 of his points in the first three quarters and didn’t play the final 7:18 of the game.

Blogtable: Playoff teams falling

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Which of last year’s playoffs teams is in for the biggest dropoff in ’14-‘15? One in each conference, please. And to make it tougher, let’s not include Indiana in this discussion.

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s important to know what constitutes a bigger dropoff: A slide of several spots while staying in the bracket or a fall of a place or two that takes a team out of the postseason entirely. In the East, I think Miami drops a few spots with LeBron gone and has to play from down under in the first round. But Brooklyn, whose weird one-season mojo needs an overhaul now, might slip out of the top eight entirely. In the West, Houston looks ripe for a fall to seventh or eighth after its poor offseason harvest. The Rockets’ best players bring talent but that team needs more heart and better locker-room leadership. Roll up your sleeves, Trevor Ariza.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn. Paul Pierce is gone, Kevin Garnett is wavering and Deron Williams might be through. Welcome back, Lionel Holllins.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIn the East, isn’t the obvious answer Miami? I mean, there’s no LeBron. And Luol Deng, while a solid two-way player, is no LeBron. Really, every other East team in the playoffs last season, with the exception of the aforementioned Pacers, should be on the rise. The West is a tougher call, but let’s go with Houston, which loses perfect-for-its-system small forward Chandler Parsons and a huge chunk of its bench. The pressure is on James Harden and Dwight Howard to be team-first leaders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Western Conference: Houston. I don’t think it will be a big drop off, but Chandler Parsons is a hit for a team that was facing increased scrutiny anyway after losing in the first round despite home-court advantage. Eastern Conference: Miami. If the Pacers are removed from consideration because it’s too obvious an answer with the Paul George injury, the Heat are not far behind for a quick response.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it has to be Miami, for obvious reasons. They should still be a very good team, but without LeBron James and if Dwyane Wade misses another 20-plus games, they’re probably not in the conference’s top four anymore. In the West, Houston will suffer offensively with the departures of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, two of their best playmakers last season. And if either James Harden or Dwight Howard misses 10-plus games, they could be in serious trouble, because neither of those guys has a legit back-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a tough one without Indiana in the mix. In the Eastern Conference, Miami has to be the candidate to take the biggest tumble based solely on the loss of LeBron James and the fact that no one will be slotting them in the top two for the 2014-15 season. That said, I think the Heat will remain among the playoff elite in the East. They just have to get used to life on a floor other than the penthouse. No one in the Western Conference wants to give up an inch, making it much tougher to crack the top eight on that side of the conference divide. The top three — San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers — should remain the same, in whatever order. That leaves the Houston Rockets as the most vulnerable to an attack from teams trying to climb into that top four. The Rockets could conceivably be just as good or better than they were last season and finish lower in the pecking order in 2014-15.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMiami in the East. I really like Luol Deng and feel like he was one of the more underrated free agents this summer, but replacing LeBron and everything he did on both ends of the court is basically impossible. And can Dwyane Wade stay healthy enough to produce for 82 games, or is he only going to be able to play 50ish games again this season? And in the West, well, I don’t know. I feel like those teams are pretty much locked in atop the conference. The one team I think will be most interesting to watch will be Golden State. Mark Jackson brought so many intangibles to that team, and I am curious to see how Steve Kerr uses Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and how he’s able to get that roster to buy into his system.

Blogtable: The best place for Wiggins

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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman



VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins shines at the Summer League in Las Vegas

> You’re Andrew Wiggins. How could it possibly be better for you, short term or long term, to play in Minnesota rather than in Cleveland with LeBron? Explain, please.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Uh, Minnesota is more like Canada, isn’t it? So that should help make Wiggins feel more at home with the Timberwolves. There’s this, too: With the Cavaliers, there would be an immediate tug o’ war between Wiggins’ pace of development and LeBron James’ readiness to win now. He’d be cast as the little brother whose game isn’t quite ready for prime time and there would be rumbles of impatience inside and outside the locker room. In Minneapolis, Wiggins will face none of that. The Wolves will be hitting the reset button with his progress and rookie-contract arc in mind. Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad are raw and unready too, and even Ricky Rubio has work to do. Minnesota’s ambitions are more in line with what Wiggins can produce short-term. Long-term, if he’s as good as he projects, he’ll be fine anywhere.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In an era when even established veteran players are looking for destinations where they can team up with other All-Stars, Wiggins’ talk boggles the mind. I guess I can see the ego part where the No. 1 overall pick in the draft wants to get the “top dog” experience. He certainly won’t get that as the No. 3 or 4 man in Cleveland behind LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  But he also won’t sniff at the playoffs either.  If it’s unconditional love Wiggins is seeking, he should just buy a dog.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Um, well, the summer months are beautiful in Minne … OK, this is going to be a tough sell. In Cleveland, Wiggins would play alongside LeBron and as a bonus he would be mostly free of the lofty expectations typical of a No. 1 overall pick. In other words, he wouldn’t be the focal point of the team. That’s all out the window in Minny, where a team desperate to get back into the playoffs for what seems like forever, will be looking to Wiggins to grow up quickly alongside Ricky Rubio, himself still growing into expectations following his unfortunate ACL injury.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The only way it’s better for me is because I get a lot more chances in Minnesota than I would have in Cleveland, especially right away. I am in the showcase for the Timberwolves, not a complementary piece for the Cavaliers after LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and maybe Dion Waiters are done with the ball. Because of that, though, there is no easy transition into the NBA, with LeBron’s return commanding so much of the spotlight that would normally go to my arrival as the No. 1 pick. And there is no opportunity to play alongside and learn about focus and preparation from James. And just imagine how many more seams I could have found in the defense if opponents had to worry about Irving and LBJ.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Well, he has an excellent chance to get to the playoffs more often than Kevin Love did in his six years in Minnesota, which could earn him some love in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. And he has a better chance of winning Rookie of the Year and putting up good numbers. But nothing beats competing for championships and there would have been no better player for Wiggins to play next to in his formative NBA years than LeBron James, who would have brought out the best in him, even if it was in a supporting role. We all know why that’s not going to happen and it’s hard to argue against the trade for Cleveland. But it’s still a shame that we won’t get to see the Wiggins/LeBron combo.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The one thing about playing in Minnesota for me, Andrew Wiggins, is the expectations for my rookie season are now much more manageable. Playing in Cleveland, alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, would have cast me in that No. 3 role. And there is no guarantee I’d be ready for that immediately. Long term, I’d never have my own identity playing in LeBron’s shadow. Cleveland is his city. That’s never going to change. The only thing I could be there is a part of the ensemble. In Minneapolis the canvass is blank. I can make my own legacy with the Timberwolves. I won’t be playing in June anytime soon, of course. But I also believe in my heart of hearts that you have to start your career in a place where you are valued not only for what you bring from the start but also the potential of what’s to come. That happens for me, Andrew Wiggins, in Minnesota.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re the man, now! If Wiggins stayed in Cleveland, he’d have played behind LeBron and Kyrie for a while, maybe even as long as they were on the same team. But with the T-Wolves, Wiggins has the opportunity to take a lot of shots and play meaningful minutes right off the bat. This is probably a good and bad thing — as a rookie, having the opportunity to be a third option would obviously be easier than having to be focus of defenses night after night and having the chance to develop slowly. But now we’ll find out exactly what we’re working with. Let’s throw Wiggins in the pool and see if he can swim.