Posts Tagged ‘Fran Blinebury’

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.

Blogtable: The summer of ’14

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: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer



VIDEO: After a terrible summer, Paul George already is working toward his return.

> Outside of LeBron going home, what will you remember most about the NBA’s Summer of ’14?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Even though I only watched one replay, it’s going to be hard to forget Paul George’s shattered right leg, both because of how gruesome the injury was and what it instantly meant to the Indiana Pacers’ season and the Eastern Conference standings. It also re-opened a legitimate debate about the risks NBA players and their teams assume to prop up someone else’s money-making tournament. My runner-up? Waking up to Klay Thompson‘s remarkable importance to the Golden State Warriors — they refused to part with him for Kevin Love, after all! — or seeing that a lot of solid basketball people have overvalued him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The big swing and miss by the Rockets, who believed they were going to land free agent Chris Bosh only to be left at the altar when he chose to re-sign with Miami.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Honestly, the image that sticks with me most is the giant-sized poster of Carmelo Anthony wearing Jeremy Lin’s No. 7 plastered all over the Toyota Center. Lin, mind you, was still a member of the Rockets, and a pretty productive member, too. He had to go to make the money right if the Rockets were to sign ‘Melo, which obviously didn’t happen, and Lin ended up leaving anyway for the Lakers. It wasn’t the classiest of moves by the Rockets organization, but Lin’s subsequent outrage, real or not, also provided me with a good chuckle.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The rookie infusion. Maybe I’m too close because I cover the Draft, but the newcomers felt like a real burst of energy. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Doug McDermott, Marcus Smart, carryovers Nerlens Noel and Nikola Mirotic, and others. There was a buzz that didn’t exist the year before. Summer-league games in Vegas were crowded. Fans seemed interested.

Kevin Love (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Kevin Love (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Unfortunately, it will be Paul George’s injury, and not just because I was 30 feet away. It was gruesome and it was on national TV. It took away a season from one of the league’s best young stars and it probably knocked the Pacers out of the playoffs. It was random and George got immediate medical attention, but even if the rules regarding National Team participation stay the same, it will be be on players’ minds whenever they’re asked to make that summer commitment.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I wasn’t sure the Kevin Love deal was going to happen over the summer, despite the constant discussion about it happening sooner rather than later. If the Cavaliers cash in and win a title anytime in the next five years the LeBron and Love moves combined will have been the touchstones for the summer of 2014,

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Perhaps this is a bit self-serving, but the new TV deals signed by the NBA with ABC and our parent company Turner have the potential to be significant. With the television contract revenue almost tripling, the luxury tax number should skyrocket. While this could also mean labor issues down the road, it definitely means the upper limit of the luxury tax should skyrocket. Yes, this means teams will have more room to spend more money, but it doesn’t guarantee instant success for capped out teams — teams struggling financially got into that position for a reason, after all.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: The Andrew Wiggins saga. When the summer started, he wasn’t even assured the first pick, as his performance in the NCAA tourney had some people doubting him. He ended up back to the top of the Draft, but then, after LeBron announced his return, immediately got thrown into a wild discussion about whether or not the Cavs should trade him for Kevin Love. Then he gets signed, then the rumours about the deal being done started spreading, then he finally gets traded. Five years from now, we might look at that trade a number of different ways — it could be the start of a dynasty for the Cavs, it could be the play that brought Minnesota back to life, it could be both, it could be neither. Also, there will forever be “what ifs” about what could have been if they never had traded Wiggins, if the Wolves had accepted Golden State’s offer, or Phoenix’s offer. Just a fascinating trade.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Yuki Togashi. The Japanese young point guard played four games in Las Vegas Summer League for the Dallas Mavericks. It’s the best topic in the summer of ’14 for NBA fan in Japan.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: David Blatt going to the Cavs (before LeBron), Gasol heading to the Bulls, Giannis Antetokounmpo playing as a point guard for the Bucks summer league team and of course, Kostas Papanikolaou signing with the Rockets! It was a full summer after all.

Blogtable: Second-year leaps

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: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer


> Which of these second-year players do you expect to take the biggest leap forward this season: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Gorgui Dieng? Why?

Gorgui Dieng (David Sherman/NBAE)

Gorgui Dieng (David Sherman/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGive me Gorgui Dieng. The lively, defensive-minded center from Senegal by way of Louisville was a second-half revelation last season after spending the first four months of 2013-14 buried on Minnesota’s bench. He started 15 games late in the season, averaging 12.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, while turning his plus/minus from minus-14.0 to plus-4.5. Chicago already admits privately that passing on Dieng to take Tony Snell one spot earlier in the 2013 draft was a mistake — he would be a perfect complement to Joakim Noah and replacement for Omer Asik in Tom Thibodeau‘s defense. Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders knows what he has in Dieng, who mitigates the disappointing work so far by same-first-rounder Shabazz Muhammad. So Dieng will get a big minutes boost whether Nikola Pekovic stays healthy or, more likely, not.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Trey Burke is in a good position to make the leap, but I’m not sure he’s good the right passing instincts for a point guard yet. Gorgui Deng will get minutes as Nikola Pekovic’s backup, but the Wolves are a team starting over. So I’ll go with Tim Hardaway Jr., who can do one thing — shoot — very well.  If he gets better on defense, he could push for a spot in the starting lineup. Or he lights it up for Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson as a sixth man.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I really like Gorgui Dieng and how strong he came on last season, but since he’s playing behind Nikola Pekovic, I’m just not sure he’s necessarily going to get the impact minutes of the other two guys. Tim Hardaway Jr. should be an exciting player in New York, but my money’s on Trey Burke. First off all, he’s got the ball in his hands so he has an opportunity every time down the floor to make something happen. I think the Jazz will have a fun team under Quin Snyder. Also, he’ll be pushed by rookie Dante Exum, and that kind of competition will drive to Burke to really hone his game.

Trey Burke (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Trey Burke (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: All good candidates for forward progress. I’ll go with Dieng because I have been on the bandwagon since he as drafted and, and plus, he followed that up with a very good second half to the rookie season. That momentum could carry over, giving him a chance to play a big role in Minnesota. Burke will definitely have a big role in Utah, but also the most challenging situation of the three because he will be adjusting to the arrival of Dante Exum, who will have the ball in his hands a lot. Burke was smart, mature and made good decisions his first season, so he can contribute in a lot of ways, but  his path is subject to change.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Burke has the biggest opportunity of the three to build on his rookie year. He was handed the keys to the Utah offense as soon as he made his late-November debut last season, and Dante Exum probably won’t take too many point-guard minutes from him this year. Hardaway can be an explosive scorer, but is still in a mix with Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith on the wing in New York, where it will be especially crowded if Carmelo Anthony plays most of his minutes at the three. Dieng isn’t talked about enough when discussing the young Wolves, but is still playing behind Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Tim Hardaway Jr. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a trick question, right? You stick two Michigan guys in here and think I’m going to ignore my guys. I think Tim Hardaway Jr. has the highest ceiling of the three and the great opportunity in front of him in terms of what role he could potentially play this season. The new system and coach in New York will be an ideal fit for young Hardaway, whose ability to score in bunches and from deep, gives him the edge over two other guys who have a chance to have huge seasons of their own. But Hardaway Jr. is my pick to take flight this year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I really like Dieng, and he looked great at Summer League in Vegas. But to me the easier transition path belongs to Burke. After a season of going up against NBA competition at an unfamiliar position, he can build on that experience and move forward. Equally important, the other young Jazz players can take from last year’s rough experience and move forward. And don’t forget Utah has new coach Quin Snyder in place, presumably running some version of the offense used in his previous stops, San Antonio and Atlanta, where point guards Tony Parker and Jeff Teague had plenty of opportunities to flourish.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Logically, I think Trey Burke will have the biggest leap because the point guard position has been generally successful the past few years. Burke has all the tools to succeed in his position, although they have the highly touted Dante Exum on their squad, he’s still a raw project compared to Burke. With already one year under his belt, Burke has nowhere to go but up.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Tim Hardarway Jr. The New York Knicks guard has potential and was one of the bright sparks from the Knicks’ rough showing last season. Hardaway Jr. has shown that he can create his own shot, shoot on the first touch, moves well without the ball in his hand and can get open while eluding the defense. Then with the changes made by the Knicks, with Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher now around at MSG, Hardaway Jr. will have the right mentoring to help him reach his ceiling.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I say Gorgui Dieng. He had a very interesting second part of the season, a fantastic World Cup and plays for a rebuilding team in which everybody will get his chance. He’s going to be a double-double machine pretty soon, even coming off the bench behind Pekovic.

Blogtable: Pierce, Gasol, Parsons?

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: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer


Long-time Lakers center Pau Gasol bolted for Chicago over the summer. (Randy Belice/NBAE)

Long-time Lakers center Pau Gasol bolted for Chicago over the summer. (Randy Belice/NBAE)

> Which of these players will fit in best with his new team: Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol or Chandler Parsons? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I like them all in their new surroundings. Pierce seems energized by Washington’s youth and up-and-coming attitude, and he’s willing to be more old head than focal point. Parsons is versatile enough to fill different needs for Dallas on different nights. Gasol opens up new vistas for Chicago’s offense, especially in tandem with Derrick Rose, and is eager to put the past two sour Lakers years behind him. Forced to choose? I’ll go with Parsons because of his age, because of the opportunities he’ll get with the Mavericks and because he’s the least likely of the three to battle injuries.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: From the day he chose Chicago, I’ve thought Pau Gasol is the perfect complement to Joakim Noah. He’s a solid frontline scorer and rebounder, excellent passer and should give a Bulls offense that struggles to score points another option and big boost.

Paul Pierce (Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Paul Pierce (Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well, look, Paul Pierce is such a veteran that he’s going to walk into that locker room with some up-and-coming young dudes and just own it. Pau Gasol is a gentleman and so easy to get along with that he’ll fit in quickly in Chicago. But, Chandler Parsons is going to be a tremendous fit with the Dallas Mavericks. Playing off Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, and with Rick Carlisle figuring out the best ways to put him in a position to be successful, I really think Parsons is going to show a lot of versatility in Dallas and is headed for a big year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Gasol, because he can fit in most any situation. While I like the other two additions, especially Parsons in Dallas, Gasol is the perfect complementary player for a lot of teams. The Bulls can be one of those teams as long as Tom Thibodeau doesn’t go Tom Thibodeau on him and play Gasol into the ground. Gasol will pass at a level that will create opportunities for Derrick Rose and the wing shooters.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Parsons fits best as a secondary playmaker in a Mavs’ offense that already features the impossible-to-guard Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-roll. If the ball is swung to Parsons on the weak side, he’ll get open threes or be able to attack close-outs with the dribble, more effectively than Shawn Marion in both cases. He’ll need to be a better defender, but the Mavs have Tyson Chandler to help on that end. Gasol will be have more of Tom Thibodeau’s trust than Carlos Boozer did, but there’s some overlap with his skill set and that of Joakim Noah. I’d put Pierce last because I think he’s a more effective four than three these days and, while he gives the Wizards an offensive boost, he can’t replace Trevor Ariza‘s defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After watching Pierce set the tone for the Wizards’ season by getting in the face of Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls in the exhibition opener, I’m even more convinced that he’ll slide into the perfect role in Washington. The Wizards are not going to ask Pierce to be the player he was five or six years ago, when he was still an All-Star caliber player. This team needs an edge, an agitator and a veteran player who can push the youngsters to go to that next level. Pierce is that guy.

Chandler Parsons (Glenn James/NBAE)

Chandler Parsons (Glenn James/NBAE)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I saw Pierce and Gasol go against each other last night in Chicago, and they both looked good. Pierce in particular gave Washington an aggressive edge, getting mixed up with Joakim Noah minutes into the preseason opener. But I’ve said all summer long that Pau Gasol will have a significant impact for Chicago, and I stand by that thought. Pau will unlock their offense — the other night I saw him attempt a few passes I’m not sure a Bulls center has even thought of in a decade. Most impressive to me was Pau’s demeanor. He made a reasoned and considered decision and truly believes he can affect change we can believe in for these Bulls.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Paul Pierce seems the right piece for the Wizards puzzle. A good veteran player than can be the glue that connects the yound and talented back-court (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr.) and the experienced front-line (Nene, Marcin Gortat, DeJuan Blair, Drew Gooden). Playing at the 3-spot and having that kind of experienced, means that he can fill all the dots and take his new team to the next level.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: It is a difficult question, but it seems to me that Pau Gasol’s the right answer, because the Bulls are a team where a full, well-rounded game is essential. Which Pau certainly does. Plus, he’ll have the help of a great post player in Joakim Noah.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Chandler Parsons will benefit the most in his new role. He is firmly entrenched in the starting small forward position that was vacated by Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, with Dirk Nowitzki spacing the floor and Monta Ellis driving inside the lane attracting the defense, look for Parsons to take advantage and perform well from the very start.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com Mexico: Pau Gasol will be the player who excels most on a new team, as he’ll have a system where he won’t be the one who has to do the dirty work under the table, something which was questioned during his tenure with the Lakers. He’ll also be able to play power forward, which brought him to the NBA, and be that dominant player with the mid-range shot that opens up spaces so that Rose and company could penetrate the paint more easily.

After 50 Greatest: The Next 10


VIDEO: Shaq breaks out his list for the Next 10

It’s been more than 17 years since the NBA named its 50 Greatest Players in History as part of the annual All-Star weekend in Cleveland. Almost from the moment the list was revealed, the debate began.

How could the legendary Dominique Wilkins be left off? How could a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, who was in just his fifth pro season, be included?

I was privileged to be among the 50 players, coaches, league executives and media members that made up the selection panel. Yes, I voted for Dominique. Not for Shaq. I thought it was too soon, his resume still incomplete, though he did, of course, become a no-brainer. The others I voted for that missed were: Bob McAdoo, Slater Martin, Dennis Johnson and Mo Cheeks.

As the 2014-15 season approaches, the gang at NBA TV’s Open Court decided it would be a time to expand the list of the 50 Greatest and choose The Next 10. The panel of O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Chris Webber, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups and Ernie Johnson had a lively discussion. You can see their picks on Tuesday night’s season-opening edition of Open Court (NBA TV, 6:30 ET, replay at 1:00 ET on Wednesday morning).

That got me to compiling my own Next 10 list. My parameters were not to re-legislate the past, so I’ve made my picks based only on players that played the majority of their careers after the original list in 1997:

Tim Duncan, with coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

Tim Duncan, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

1 — Tim Duncan — It’s quite fitting that the Spurs made him the No. 1 pick in the Draft just months after the celebration of the 50 Greatest. He’s the perfect torch bearer at the perfect time to lead into the next generation. Five-time NBA champ, two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 14-time All-Star, the Big Fundamental has been able to do it all for the past 17 seasons, staking his claim as the greatest power forward in history.

2 — Kobe Bryant – How many other 36-year-olds could enter a 19th NBA season coming off Achilles’ tendon and knee surgery and still defiantly believe that he’ll be able to dominate games and make his team contender? And you give him the benefit of the doubt? Currently fourth on the all-time scoring list, Kobe is poised to pass Michael Jordan this season. Call him ego-driven, a lightning rod or whatever you want, but since 1996, after winning five titles, an MVP award and two Finals MVPs, you have to call him elite.

3 — LeBron James — Not since Wilt Chamberlain has a player come into the league with such fantastic, over-the-top hype. Jealous criticisms aside, all he’s done is live up to it. The perfect combination of size, strength, speed, smarts and unselfishness. He’s just 29 years old with  four MVP awards, two championships, two Finals MVPs and 10 straight All-Star appearances already. And now he’s going back to Cleveland to keep writing the tale. As the late Howard Cosell once said, his critics might as well be shooting “spitballs at a battleship.” Clearly the best all-around player of his generation. He ranks only third here out of respect to his elders.

4 — Dirk Nowitzki — Did the Milwaukee Bucks know what they were trading away when they made him the ninth pick in the 1998 Draft and shipped him to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor? Did the basketball world remotely expect that a raw, gangly 7-footer from Wurzburg, Germany could grow into probably the best shooting big man in history? MVP, Finals MVP, champion, 12-time All-Star, he’s one of the Mt. Rushmore faces of international players that changed the NBA.

5 — Kevin Garnett — From those early days as a raw 19-year-old who became the first high schooler in nearly two decades to jump straight to the NBA, his calling card has been intensity. Of course, K.G. also has a bundle of talent at both ends of the court. NBA champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 15-time All-Star. If you needed somebody to play in a game with your life on the line, you’d want Garnett on the floor.

6 — Allen Iverson – You can keep Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. When it’s the toughest, most resilient pound-for-pound fighter we’re talking about, The Answer is the answer. The little guy was bruised, beaten, body slammed on a nightly basis and just kept popping back up to fire off another dozen or so shots. MVP, 11 All-Star appearances, four-time scoring champ and three-time steals leader. Watching him drag that 2001 Sixers team to The Finals was a joy.

7 — Dwyane Wade – It’s convenient in some corners to say that he’s been the ultimate ride-along partner to O’Neal and James in winning three championships. That corner of the world evidently didn’t have a TV to watch the NBA Finals in 2006 when he brought Miami out of an 0-2 hole against Dallas with games of 42, 36, 43 and 36 points. Explosive, acrobatic and willing to make his game fit in with LeBron for two more titles in the Big Three Era, Wade’s crowd-pleasing, no-holds-barred style has taken a toll on his body. But he never stops. Scoring champ, Finals MVP, 10 All-Star Games and the all-time leader in blocked shots for players 6-foot-4 and under.

8 — Jason Kidd – He began his career in Dallas in 1994 as a point guard that could beat you down the floor on the break or break down your set defense. By the time he returned to Dallas to win a championship with the Mavs, he was a slow 3-point specialist. In between Kidd was one of the smartest and best all-around players in the NBA, third on the all-time triple-doubles list and the only player in history with 15,000 points, 10,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds.

9 — Chris Webber — The critics will point to a resume that doesn’t have a championship or even a trip to The Finals. But they would be missing the forest for the trees. From the time he was the No. 1 pick in the 1993 Draft through the next decade, until he needed micro fracture knee surgery, Webber was as good a do-everything forward as there was in the game. He turned lowly teams at Golden State, Washington and Sacramento into winners by averaging 20-10 and being a slick, willing passer.

10 — Kevin Durant — At just 26, with the meat of his career still ahead, there is the temptation to put him in the Shaq category with the original 50 and say let him marinate a while longer. But with four scoring titles, five All-NBA first team selections and the 2014 MVP award under his belt, who needs to wait? He can get off a shot any time from anywhere on the court and never look like he’s straining. A pure scoring machine who makes it all look too, too easy.

Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s 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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.

Blogtable: Knicks a playoff team?

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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Defense, says Carmelo Anthony, is going to be a focus of the Knicks

> We’ve seen a lot of changes in New York, and a vow from new boss Phil Jackson that the Knicks will be in the playoffs. Your thoughts? Playoffs? Are they a better team than last year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Sure, the Knicks will make the playoffs. The East still isn’t the West and I think enough has changed with New York —  driven by Jackson’s arrival, altering the culture sufficiently — that it will be a little better. Carmelo Anthony got an awfully cushy call-out (five years, $124 million) but seems to get it now that his legacy will be limited unless his team wins big. My hunch: New York and Brooklyn share All-Star Weekend, then fight over the East’s final playoff spot

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The 37-45 Knicks missed the playoffs by one game last season, so Phil Jackson’s promise isn’t exactly going to register on the Joe Namath Scale in New York. Carmelo Anthony is re-signed and happy. That’s nice. Jose Calderon is at the point. That’s nice. They’ve swapped Tyson Chandler’s defense for Samuel Dalembert. That’s not so nice.  They’re counting on a resurrection by Amar’e Stoudemire and a recommitment by J.R. Smith. That’s unlikely. Can the sideline combo of Jackson and Derek Fisher get them to .500 if everything clicks?  In a glass-half-full world, I suppose. But hardly any more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Yeah, I think they will be in the playoffs. They have a very motivated head coach and superstar. They’ve improved at point guard with steady Jose Calderon, and while losing Tyson Chandler in the middle theoretically hurts, he wasn’t healthy much last season and Sam Dalembert is serviceable, and I like the Jason Smith pickup. I really think Tim Hardaway Jr., can give the Knicks a real scoring boost and I’m eager to see Cleanthony Early bring some youthful elbow grease. Above all else, this team can have fun, and that was in short supply a year ago.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: They could be a little better, but the problem is, Cleveland will be a lot better. Milwaukee will be better. The team that finished just ahead of the Knicks last season, Atlanta, will be better. Indiana is a candidate to fall out of the top eight, and Miami will go backward as well, though maybe not lottery backward. New York and the playoffs will be a close call. For an October answer, I’ll say no.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’re in the 7-10 range in the East with a decent shot of making the playoffs with good chemistry (especially defensively), or injuries to teams that would otherwise finish above them. Jose Calderon’s shooting should help an offense that was already pretty good. The loss of Tyson Chandler would seemingly hurt the defense, but any cohesion on that end of the floor would be more than they had last season. They certainly have a chance of improving on 37-45, but there are a lot of variables.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs? In New York? Listen, nobody loves having the Zen master back in the building more than I do. He is truly great for the game. But I’ll refrain from any playoff proclamation about the Knicks until at least Christmas. We need to see this crew in action before swimming in those deep playoff waters. I don’t know if this a better team than what we saw under Mike Woodson last year. Derek Fisher’s going to have to find his own coaching niche with this group and from a personnel standpoint there hasn’t been enough of an upgrade to automatically vault this team into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. It’s way too soon for playoffs chatter from new York.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I do think they’ve built a better roster than they had a season ago. But as my co-host Rick Fox has talked about several times on the Hang Time Podcast, getting a full understanding of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense takes years, not weeks or months. So it might take these Knicks some time to be able to fully grasp how to maximize their offensive system. An for all the talk about the West being better than the East, the East should be more competitive top-to-bottom this season than last. My top seven in no real order are Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Charlotte, Toronto, Atlanta and Miami. Maybe we see Indy and the Knicks fight it out for the eight spot?

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: One thing is for sure, Phil Jackson has the magic touch, so I would believe whatever he says. If Phil says that the Knicks will go to the playoffs, I am expecting the Knicks to go to the playoffs. They have the talent to do so. The things they lacked and are looking to regain this year are chemistry and health.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: I think that at this time they’re a real question. It seems to me that they can fight for eighth place to the playoffs, but are not a better team than last year and are going to be left out of the postseason.

Blogtable: Kobe, putting up 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: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: How far can Kobe pull his teammates along? That’s a big question for the Lakers.

> Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.5 points a game on 45 percent shooting in his career. So take a guess: What should we expect from him this season? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We should expect Bryant to join an hyper-exclusive club this season, namely, Players Who Averaged 20 Points or More at Age 36 or Older. There have been only three — Michael Jordan (2), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3) and Karl Malone (4) — doing it a total of nine times. Given Bryant’s relentless drive, his Jordan obsession and his shortage of scoring help on the Lakers, I expect him to put up the point totals. Keep in mind, though, that Jordan shot a combined 43.1 percent in his two seasons, averaging 21.2 points with the lowest PER numbers (19.9 combined) of his career.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You’re asking this without a benefit of seeing a single preseason game, anything?  OK, going strictly on gut and what we know about Kobe, I have a hard time seeing him averaging less than 20 ppg. Maybe the shooting percentage is in the low 40s. Why? Because he’s driven to come back as the alpha dog. Because if his wheels are OK, he’s dead set on proving everyone who doubts him wrong. Because he’s going to get up his shots. Because he’s Kobe.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Here’s the thing, look at the Lakers roster, somebody’s got to score, right? Pau’s not even there anymore for an inside option. This show is going to be Kobe’s and as long as he stays healthy he’s going to get off a lot of shots and get his points. He hasn’t averaged fewer than 25 ppg since the 2003-04 season when he averaged 24. This might not be the same Kobe we’re used to, but honestly, we saw that coming as far back as the 2011 playoffs. This Kobe will still score points, and a lot of them because he’ll have to. He’ll average at least 22.0 a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I can’t predict health. But if he plays, he plays well. If it’s a guess you want, let’s say 18 points a game and 42 percent. That’s not bad for a 36 year old coming off two major injuries and most of a season on the sideline. Plus, he will be playing with several teammates for the first time (Lin, Boozer, Randle, maybe Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson). There will be a lot of timing issues moving forward, which is why the shooting numbers will take a hit.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: With 36-year-old legs, without much help on the Lakers’ roster, and with No. 3 on the all-time scoring list in his sights, I don’t think he’ll be all that efficient, unless Steve Nash can somehow play 1,500 minutes and create easy looks for him. I’ll guess 26 ppg on 43 percent shooting (45 EFG%).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m not ready to close the book on Kobe just yet. Not now, not when so many are sure to doubt him. That’s the stuff he thrives on, what’s made him great for so long. A reasonable expectation, as long as he’s healthy, is for Kobe to go for 24.4 points a night on 46 percent shooting on a Los Angeles Lakers team that will need that and more from its best player. There’s no doubt he’ll get all the shots he heeds under Byron Scott and his supporting cast will be eager to defer to a rejuvenated Kobe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog23 points per game on 42 percent shooting, in about 33 minutes per game. Kobe’s not the player he was a decade, or two decades, ago. But knowing what we know about him, the Mamba will be primed and ready to strike. And I think this season, with experience behind him and trusting Byron Scott, the Mamba will be able to temper himself a bit more and not feel the need to play 40-plus minutes every night. Which, in the long run, benefits everyone.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: The 2014-15 version of Kobe Bryant will be the smartest, more passing…est version of the Kobe we’ve seen. I’m afraid part of his explosiveness is gone (due to his injuries but also his age), but he could still be a lethal weapon. He should share the ball more, play with his teammates and build from there. More or less what he tried to do in the six games he played in 2013-14, averaging 6.3 apg. My guess is 22.5 ppg and 6.5 apg, shooting 42 percent.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: If his body stays right, I think he may average similar points per game (maybe 20-22 PPG) but will be less efficient. I only say this because I legitimately want him to abandon whatever it is the Lakers want to do with their roster full of short-term contracts and genuinely make a run at the all-time scoring record. He’s a chance to pass Michael Jordan for third all-time this season and I’d love to see him have a crack at Kareem beyond 2015. My advice to Kobe, jack it up!

Harden vows to add ‘D’ to his ‘A game’


VIDEO: Kevin McHale, James Harden and Dwight Howard discuss the upcoming season

HOUSTON — If there’s one thing the Rockets tired of more than seeing replays of Damian Lillard’s lethal dagger over the summer, it was hearing the criticism of James Harden’s defense. Or what there was of it.

The All-NBA first team guard was a virtual pin cushion on social media for his lack of commitment to the part of the game that didn’t involve his trying to put the ball into the basket.

“I hear it,” Harden said at the annual Media Day gathering on Monday. “I don’t pay attention to it. I’m not a really good defender. At times I can be really bad.

“A lot of stars, their defense is bad. That’s a category I know I have to get better at. For us to go and reach our potential, that’s something that has to be done. That’s one of the things I’m excited about this season. I have no choice.”

Harden raised some eyebrows when he told an interviewer that he regarded himself as the best all-around player in the NBA.

“I wasn’t saying that to be cocky,” he said. “I’ve just put such hard work and effort into my craft. Obviously we know there’s a lot of great talent out there in this league.”

Perhaps Harden even made the statement to set the bar even higher to motivate himself.

“Probably, to play the way I know I can play,” he said. “My teammates know I can play. Like I said, I got to get better at both ends. It’s just me focusing on all possessions. Being able to concentrate on small things.”

Coach Kevin McHale, with his pedigree as player, knows about the small and large things that go into the making of champion, including getting defensive effort from even the biggest offensive gun.

“We talked about all that,” McHale said. “We’ve constantly been challenging James to take on challenges. He knows he’s got to improve in areas. We asked him to do a lot last year. We’ll ask him to do a lot this year. There’s a lot of offensive pressure on him to deliver every night, but you still got to go out there and play the other side of the ball.

“He’s a young guy that’s growing into being a leader, growing into who he is. We won 54 games last year. He was first team All-Pro. I know there’s not anything above first team. that’s about as good as you get. He must have done a lot of really good things. Like all our guys, he’s got to improve in areas. He knows that. He’s not afraid to work.

“Your defense is based on help and help principles. But if (a teammate) gets beat every time, I say, ‘Oh, my God I got to get over and help again.’ If (a teammate) shuts down his guy, there’s a calmness in me. I’m not over-helping. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my.’

“It’s a trust factor of doing your job on defense. It’s not always relying on the trust that is built in. Your object as a defender is to not use that help all that time. Use it when guys make great moves. You can’t get beat on average moves. You can’t get beat on just average stuff. You gotta just make guys work hard to beat you. It’s simple things.

“In the end, if you play on a team that is championship caliber team, there is a huge amount of trust. That trust comes from you doing your job night after night after night after night, so that everybody can trust each other.”

The Rockets are hoping that a lineup that includes three players — Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley — who love to sink their teeth in on defense can rub off and put some bite into Harden’s defense.

“It’s not the fact that I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m a pretty good defender. It’s me being focused on the small things that I lose track of. I know that. Like I said, in order for Rockets to reach potential, I got to get better at that end.”

Spurs repeat: It’s not about repeating


VIDEO: Media Day: Will Spurs repeat?

SAN ANTONIO — There’s a new “NBA champions 2014″ banner hanging near the ceiling at one of the practice facility. But except for a snow white beard on the face of coach Gregg Popovich, little else has changed since the last time the basketball world saw the Spurs. Not that it ever does.

Tim Duncan is back. Manu Ginobili is back. Tony Parker will be in a day late. In fact, every member of the team that wrapped up the fifth championship in franchise history in June will return when the Spurs receive their rings on opening night (Oct. 28) against the Mavericks.

“We had a pretty good year, so I didn’t see any reason to kick them out of town and make trades and change them,” Popovich cracked as the team gathered for media day. “Plus most of them were under contract and that makes it more difficult.

“That’s a pretty good crew. They’ll come back and, as usual, do their best and we’ll either lose in the first round, second round, conference finals or win it all. Who knows?”

What Popovich does know is that making a bid to go back-to-back for the first time in franchise history will not be what specifically or artificially drives the Spurs.

“We’ll talk about it a little bit,” he said. “You guys will write articles. It’s all the same every year. ‘Why haven’t we repeated?’ Because we haven’t.


VIDEO: Popovich looking toward 2014-15 season

“If we do, it would be great. If we don’t, life will go on, everything’s cool.

“Just to be clear, we’ve never had any goals whatsoever in a sense of winning X number of games or this year is our year to win a championship. We’ve never talked about it. We’ve never known what’s gonna happen at the end of the year or said this is what we want to happen.

“All we’ve said is that we want to be the best team that we can be at playoff time and that starts with the very first practice. It’s a building block sort of thing and then we hope that we can be healthy and fresh at playoff time. Those are the only goals we’ve had every single year, including last year and it will be no different this year.”

What the Spurs have learned from the past is that even the best preparation doesn’t end with balloons and confetti falling down on your head.

“A lot of times winning a championship, people don’t believe it…Good fortune plays a huge role,” Popovich said. “What’s good fortune? It’s a guy off the bench having a helluva series. It might be a call or a non call by an official. It might be an injury. It can be a lot of different things. The way the ball bounces, which is normally wouldn’t do in this or that circumstance.

“When we lost to Dallas here in Game 7 in the second round a few years back, we were a pretty darn good team and we were capable of winning a championship. Or the year that (Derek) Fisher hit the .4 on us. We were a pretty good team and I think we were capable of winning a championship.

“So those teams that did win, something happened on the opposite end of the spectrum fortune wise that helped them get there. It’s just the way it is. In Game 6 in the second half against Oklahoma City last year, you wouldn’t have predicted we’d win that game — down nine going into the second half without Tony. And it happened, because it’s a game and everything isn’t preordained.

“So winning championships has something to do with fortune and circumstances. That repeat thing just hasn’t gone our way in that sense. So this year obviously it will be in their mind that they would like to do that, but it will not be a mantra. Not we gotta do this. This is about your legacy and you’re not a great team if you didn’t do it’ and all the gobbledygook psychobabble. We won’t go into any of that.”

This is, however, a difference in playing as the defending champs, according to the veteran of 17 NBA season and the four previous titles.

“I think the biggest thing I recall is how big the game is every night, no matter where you go and who you play,” Duncan said. “It’s a big game for them, and that wears on you over a season. I think it’s about us finding a rhythm, finding a consistency and trying to deal with that and not be worn out by the end of the year.”