Posts Tagged ‘Giannis Antetokounmpo’

Blogtable: Top 5 MVP contenders next season?

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: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Steph Curry is now a two-time Kia MVP. Looking ahead, who are your top five candidates for next season’s MVP?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAt the rate he and his team are going, Stephen Curry could be an MVP candidate again, but my hunch is the media beast will demand someone new. So how ’bout Draymond Green? If the Warriors continue their ride atop the league, their versatile and loquacious big-small man might get some love for the impact he has on Golden State’s lineups and success. Then there’s Kyrie Irving, who may be ready to ease LeBron James‘ load sufficiently and thus relieve him of some MVP votes. Damian Lillard might make the leap from snubbed All-Star to serious Podoloff trophy candidate, if he can coax another improved season out of the Trail Blazers. What I’m seeing right now in the playoffs suggests Kevin Durant isn’t going to be content with one MVP – and (wink wink) he might not be splitting votes with Russell Westbrook next season. For a long shot, considering the heavy lifting required, give me Anthony Davis over Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course Davis would have to stay healthy while also keeping a few teammates out of the trainers’ room to boost New Orleans big-time in the standings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook. That is purposely in alphabetical order. It’s challenge enough narrowing the list of possibilities to five. I would love to squeeze Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and maybe a few others on as well. But I will give my very top candidate: Leonard. That’s with the understanding that a lot can change between now and the start of the season, since roster moves obviously effect roles.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI believe we’ll have the usual suspects once again: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. My choice is Westbrook, even if Kevin Durant signs elsewhere. Westbrook is that good, and more important, he’s due.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCurry, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are obvious answers. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finished fourth and fifth while on the same team this year and could earn more votes if they’re on different teams next year. Honestly, it’s hard to find someone who finished outside the top five this year that could crash the party next year, unless TNT’s therapy session for Dwight Howard on Tuesday somehow hits home and leads to much better chemistry and much better defense in Houston (or wherever Howard goes this summer).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m seeing a list of the usual suspects, with Steph gong into the season as frontrunner followed by Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Shuffle that list up any way you’d like, but if we’re at this point in May of 2017 with the same names finishing in the top five, I won’t be shocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Curry will be there, obviously, and so will LeBron James, as always. Kevin Durant will be another MVP candidate, wherever he is next year. I’m looking for Blake Griffin to demand consideration on the hunch that he’ll be motivated to make amends for this season. I’m also looking for a big bounce-back year from Anthony Davis; but if Durant should wind up leaving OKC, then I’ll move Russell Westbrook into MVP consideration ahead of Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Curry clearly remains the favorite, and I’m also loath to remove any of the other guys I voted for this season: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But for the sake of argument, and who doesn’t enjoy a good argument, we should probably also be willing to discuss Draymond Green, who continues to prove his worth to the NBA’s best team. The other guy who should probably be in the mix is Chris Paul, who carried an injured Clippers team to a top spot in the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Which team will go from lottery to playoffs next season?

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: MVP favorites for 2016-17? | Lottery-to-playoffs in 2017? | Who wins Raptors-Heat series?


> Of the 14 teams in next week’s Draft Lottery, who could be playing (instead of watching) at this time next year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAre we counting the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors, who have lottery presences thanks to Brooklyn and Denver, respectively? Toronto is playing at this time this year, and the Celtics are one solid piece, i.e., a lottery player, away from May competition (though a veteran star is the real need). If we’re limiting it to teams that earned their lottery status via losing, I think Washington has the best chance to advance two steps because of its proven rotation players (if kept together), its appeal to at least one significant free agent this summer and the distaste management had – and thus, the mandate given to new coach Scott Brooks – for falling out of the playoffs this year. John Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest have to be peeved, too, to have missed out, considering the trajectory on which they’d had themselves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIf you’re talking about the conference finals, none of the above. But if you just mean winning one round of the playoffs, then I’ll go with Washington and Chicago as a longer shot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz, possibly the Bulls depending on several key TBA roster decisions. I could see the Bucks getting back and the Magic taking that next step forward. But that is obviously based on 2015-16. Offseason moves can change everything, including once we know the lottery order.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe easy answer is the Celtics, who own Brooklyn’s pick. But if we discount them, then I’d say the Bulls, for two reasons: They have an All-Star in Jimmy Butler and they play in the East. A wild card would be Minnesota — look for a big sophomore season from Karl-Anthony Towns — but being young and in the West isn’t a great combination.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I probably answered the Utah Jazz to this question last year, (Editor’s note: Actually, it was OKC) but I’ll do it again anyway, because they have a big frontline that gives them a chance to be a top-five defensive team. They need to get more creative offensively, but the continued development of Rodney Hood will help on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Utah Jazz have been knocking on the door for the past two seasons. I hope they finally find a way next season. The Minnesota Timberwolves are my darkhorse pick to chase the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff race. If the Giannis Antetokounmpo point guard experience works out in Milwaukee, I’m going with the Bucks as the team ready to invade the party in the Eastern Conference.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Wizards missed the playoffs by three games. A healthier season for John Wall and Bradley Beal can move them into the postseason, and new coach Scott Brooks can help them reach a strong seed. But the truth is that we’re flying blind on this question in advance of the least predictable summer in memory. Who knows what these rosters are going to look like three months from now?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, clearly, the Minnesota Timberwolves are poised to make a leap, with the addition of Tom Thibodeau and a roster of exciting young players. But the Western Conference remains no joke, and the Wolves would have to be a dozen wins better than they were last season just to sniff the No. 8 seed. I think the team best poised to make a leap out of the lottery is Washington, which has a new coach with fresh ideas and already has a superstar in John Wall.

Morning shootaround — March 30


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors tie franchise wins mark | Westbrook miffed over Jackson’s celebration | Kidd: Giannis to start at point next season | Reports: Lakers’ Russell losing teammate support after video emerges

No. 1: Warriors tie franchise mark for victories — Just a season ago, the Golden State Warriors did what was considered a long shot for them entering 2014-15 — to not only rise to the top of the Western Conference standings, but also amass the most wins in franchise history (67-15) en route to an NBA title. Here the Warriors are again with 67 wins, only this time they’ve got eight games left and a more than realistic shot at breaking the NBA’s single-season wins mark of 72. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle was on hand for last night’s demolishing of the Washington Wizards and has more on Golden State:

The Warriors put together one of their best defensive games since March 16, generally taking the life out of the Wizards for a 102-94 victory at Oracle Arena in front of a national TV audience.

The Warriors forced 17 turnovers, allowed Washington to shoot only 41.9 percent from the floor (21.7 percent from three-point range) and limited an opponent to fewer than 100 points for only the sixth time in the past 26 games.

“I thought our defense was pretty solid,” said coach Steve Kerr, who still harped on getting beat backdoor and some transition flaws. “We guarded the three-point line really well. We challenged all of the three-point attempts that they put up. We did have some breakdowns that were sort of head-scratchers.

“We can still get better, but overall, the intensity and energy were pretty good.”

Just in time to secure some more history.

The Warriors (67-7) tied the franchise mark for wins in a season and remained one game ahead of the pace set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won an NBA-record 72 games.

The Warriors need to go at least 6-2 during the season’s final eight games to break the record, and five of those games are at home, where the Warriors extended their regular-season winning streak to a league-record 54 games, 36 of them this season.

“Mind-boggling,” Kerr said. “I could have never imagined anything like this, but a lot of things have gone our way this year, and the guys have done an amazing job, coming off of last year, of focusing on getting better and trying to continue the rise.…

“It’s not easy to do in this league. It takes a lot of energy, so I’m really proud of them for the way they’ve competed.”

“As you go through the season and kind of get lost in the journey, we should be able to accomplish both: be a better team and better our record, which we’re on our way to doing,” Stephen Curry said. “For us to be playing at such a high level for two straight years and to have our eyes set on the ultimate goal, it’s fun.”


VIDEO: Warriors handle Wizards, get win No. 67

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Blogtable: Antetokounmpo’s future as a point guard?

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: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEOAntetokounmpo makes history for the Bucks

> Since moving to point guard, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has been dazzling. How high could Antetokounmpo’s stock rise in this new ball-handling role?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: We literally have seen nothing like this — a 7-foot point guard! My reflexive reaction was to say ‘yeah, but he still can’t shoot,’ which is true. But he’s lessened the impact of that — at least so far. Since the All-Star break, he has a PIE of 16.8, which is 12th-best in the league over that period — better than past and present All-Stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul George. Those are also all guys who have really picked up their games the second half of the season. He mitigates the shooting issue by going to the rim, and, really, who has the length to swat at the ball when he has it in his hands? I’m still not convinced this is a long-term solution for the Bucks at the point, but you can’t ignore the numbers or the impact.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This guy is going to be an All-Star at one position or another, and even the “backcourt” and “frontcourt” designations on that ballot might not be broad enough to accommodate his skill set. The difference in Antetokounmpo being thrown in at point guard occasionally in his first two seasons and even earlier in 2015-16 vs. the guy now who is directing traffic and taking charge as Jason Kidd‘s surrogate is remarkable. He needs shooters and he himself has to keep working on his range to soften up defenses, but that’s going to come — fast.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comNot sure what this means. Are you asking to place the bar now at Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, LeBron James level? Not yet off small sample. Let’s just say that right now stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo is tougher than spelling his name.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The phrase “unlimited potential” comes to mind. This is what coach Jason Kidd had in mind two summers ago when he began to experiment with the idea of point guard Giannis. And this is just Antetokounmpo warming up. He could be even better there in the future. Hello, very interesting possibilities for the Bucks.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: He is Not A Point Guard. Period. It’s nice that he’s having some fun here in the dog days of the season when there’s nothing on the line, but he and the Bucks are better off using him at the swing position and finding a real point guard this summer. My choice: Rajon Rondo.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHis stock was already high, no matter what position he was playing. But if the ball is in his hands and he’s making plays, his inability to shoot becomes less of a problem. He still needs to improve in that regard, but if the Bucks can consistently get him (and those long strides of his) going downhill with the ball in his hands, he’s going to be a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Giannis is on his way to shattering whatever expectations I had for him after that impressive first glimpse he provided during his rookie season. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, recognizes something in Giannis that leads him to believe he can best fulfill his immense potential by using him as a facilitator. Giannis definitely has All-Star potential, even if he was playing a more traditional position or role for the Bucks. As a point-forward, the possibilities are endless, depending on how well he masters that role.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Wasn’t this always his promise — to become the NBA’s longest, sleekest point guard? As always, the key will be whether he can apply those strengths on the ball at the defensive end. Because then Antetokounmpo can have a profound influence.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He has been interesting, but I think there’s a ceiling, as teams will start adjusting and forcing him to shoot more or handle the ball in places where he’s uncomfortable. Thus far, his transcendent athleticism has allowed him to flourish. But while Giannis might be able to play the point guard position, that doesn’t make him a point guard. As a former high school back-up point guard, I can attest that point guard is as much a state of mind as a position. If this is a long-term thing, Giannis has a lot of learning to do. Perhaps Giannis at the point is better as a change of pace to occasionally catch opponents off their guard.

Morning shootaround — March 22


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant questionable vs. Rockets | Why LeBron unfollowed Cavs on social media | Wade to Davis: Don’t rush back | Hammond praises Antetokounmpo’s development

No. 1: Durant (elbow) questionable tonight vs. Rockets — The Oklahoma City Thunder were not their sharpest right after the All-Star break, amassing a 4-8 mark after March 12 loss on the road to the San Antonio Spurs. Things have picked up a bit lately for the Thunder, though, as they are in the midst of a four-game win streak as the Houston Rockets visit tonight (8 ET, TNT). However, it’s not all positive for OKC as leading scorer Kevin Durant has an elbow injury that may keep him out of tonight’s game. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:

Late in the third quarter on Saturday night in Indianapolis, Kevin Durant flew in for an acrobatic block, but was undercut and fell hard on his right elbow.

He stayed down for a little while, wincing in pain during a timeout, but remained in and closed out the game. But after an off-day Sunday, he didn’t practice on Monday. Durant was seen walking across the floor with an ice-pack on his elbow.

“Did a little bit on the side,” coach Billy Donovan said. “But in terms of the contact stuff we did, he didn’t do anything.”

Does Donovan expect Durant to be available against the Rockets on Tuesday night?

“Gonna see how he’s doing tomorrow, but it’s nothing too serious, nothing that’s a major problem,” Donovan said. “He’s got some discomfort, but we’ll probably find out (if he’s available) at shootaround.”


VIDEO: OKC gears up for its showdown with Houston tonight

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Morning shootaround — March 7


VIDEO: Highlight’s from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors were due for a game like this | Lebron’s tweets can cause nightmares | Gentry, Pelicans ready to look to the future? | Curry skeptical he could ever score 81

No. 1: The Warriors were due for a game like this Kobe Bryant credited the socks the Lakers wore for their stunning upset victory over the Golden State Warriors Sunday at Staples Center. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team got what it deserved, a beat down from the team with the second worst record in the league. But Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News believes the mighty Warriors, who host the Orlando Magic tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), were simply due for a game when they literally could not shoot straight from their normal sweet spots:

Every NBA team is susceptible to the big road clunker, even the Warriors.

Every really good team sometimes plays a really bad game.

Every championship contender will have wobbly focus and heavy legs once in a while, especially when the game is in Los Angeles, when tipoff is before 1 p.m., and when they’re overwhelming favorites over the Lakers.

So yes, the Warriors were due for a loss like they just suffered on Sunday, yes, they deserved it, and yes, I’m sure they were also pretty embarrassed by it.

For the greatest teams, what matters most is what happens next, and for the Warriors that means Monday night at Oracle against Orlando.

If the Warriors lose back-to-back games for the first time this season, well, then there might be cause for emergency sirens to blare and panic to strike throughout the Bay Area.

Not until then, and I doubt any of that will be necessary, anyway.

Every time a great team loses, it seems to come out of nowhere — just as Sunday’s 112-95 Lakers triumph over the Warriors was a tale of shock and astonishment.

But when you look back, you can always figure out the rhyme and reason — just as you can for this Warriors loss, which dropped them to 55-6, still on pace to break whatever record you want them to.

The Warriors lost this game because Curry and Thompson combined to miss 17 of their 18 3-point attempts, because the Lakers attacked the Warriors’ sluggish defense, and because sometimes you’re just due.

Did this game expose glaring weaknesses in the Warriors? No, it did not; they can be beaten by a lot of the same things that can beat everybody else, but it just happens to the Warriors less often.

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No. 2: LeBron’s tweets can cause nightmares … if you let them: Yes, people are still trying to decipher the meaning of tweets LeBron James sent out last week, the same ones that caused a frenzy (with everyone weighing in on what he meant with those words). And yes, LeBron’s tweets can drive you crazy, if you let them, as Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com makes clear. But wouldn’t this time be better spent focusing on more pressing matters, like the Memphis Grizzlies, who visit Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7 ET, NBA TV)?

LeBron James and that Twitter account of his…together they’re either wreaking havoc and spelling doom for the Cavaliers, or simply messing with us.

Here’s James’ latest blast, to some more than 28.5 million followers, this morning, around the time many are finishing up with church:

We’re not going to speculate here as to whom or what he’s referring.

But there’s been a lot of speculating over the past week, mostly because James has unleashed a string of cryptic, either virtually innocuous or potentially loaded tweets since Tuesday.

James was asked about the first two on Thursday, and didn’t want to talk about it. He’ll be asked again Monday following Cleveland’s shootaround in preparation for the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Cavs are 44-17, lead the Raptors by 2.5 games for first place in the East, and beat their last two opponents by a combined 42 points over the weekend.

So, what’s the problem? Is there one? Is it all a ruse? Motivation tactic?

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No. 3: Gentry,Pelicans ready to look to the future? The New Orleans Pelicans have already acknowledged that their pursuit of a playoff berth this season is dead. There have been too many injuries, too many missed opportunities for Alvin Gentry‘s bunch, they host the the Sacramento Kings tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass), to repeat last season’s late-season push that saw the Pelicans punch their postseason ticket in the regular-season finale. So instead of waiting any longer, it’s perhaps time for Gentry and the Pelicans to look to the future, as Justin Verrier of ESPN.com suggests:

“At some stage we have to start thinking about the future, looking at the future,” Gentry said after a 106-94 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped the Pelicans to 3-5 since the All-Star break. “That’s one of the reasons why I stuck Jrue [Holiday] out there to start the second half. We have to start looking at Jrue as a starter some and playing him. And trying to find ways to get Anthony [Davis] the ball more in the flow of the game. Even if they’re double-teaming him, that’s gotta be something as coaches that we try to figure out also.

“At this stage, like I said, it would be a miracle almost for us to make the playoffs. We really have to start looking at developing a culture and how we’re gonna play in the future and figuring out guys on this team, how they fit into the system and if they’re going to be able to fit in a system.”

Despite mounting evidence that the team plays better with Holiday on the floor — his plus-1.0 net rating is best on the team, per NBA.com/Stats — and that Davis, the main cog in the team’s future, is more effective with Holiday alongside him — 5.3 points better in true shooting percentage, to be exact — the Pelicans have brought the 25-year-old guard off the bench since Dec. 4 to give a depleted second unit an extra “punch.” Gentry said he didn’t envision changing the setup as recently as two weeks ago, even though it put their two best players on the court together for only 19.3 minutes a game.

But a lot has changed even in the past two days. In his fourth game back, Eric Gordon refractured the same right ring finger that kept him out of 16 games. With three players (Tyreke EvansQuincy PondexterBryce Dejean-Jones) out for the season, the Pelicans have lost the fourth-most games (183) in the NBA to injuries and illness, according to InStreetClothes.com. And after a fourth straight loss, the Pelicans are now 6 ½ games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with 21 still to play. Even the most optimistic would admit that the odds — 0.3 percent entering Saturday’s games, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — are against them.

Holiday hadn’t heard about Gentry’s intentions after the loss to Utah, but when told by reporters his response was tantamount to: Oh, nice.

“Nah, that’s the first I’m hearing about it. I’m cool with it,” Holiday said. “With the lack of bodies I feel like [we] kinda have to. Whatever it is we need to win. Obviously our last three games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, but we still gonna try to win every game.”

Even with the obstacles the Pelicans have faced, Davis made sure to note that he isn’t ready to concede.

“I’m playing every game,” he said after putting up 29 points on 11-for-31 shooting and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Jazz. “I still got hope for this team, still got faith in these guys. I feel like we still can do it. We just got to believe.”

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No. 4: Curry skeptical he could ever top Kobe’s 81: For all of the magic Stephen Curry has created this season, he knows his limitations. He knows that even with is seemingly otherworldly ability to shoot the ball from distances and angles few can, he’s skeptical that he could ever reach the 81-point zenith that Kobe Bryant did. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News explains:

The question made Stephen Curry smile and shake his head. He showed the same disbelief many have when they watch him play.

The Golden State Warriors’ guard and defending regular-season MVP has seemingly made any shot at any angle and from any distance. But he cast serious doubts on accomplishing something else even more miraculous.

Could Curry ever break Kobe Bryant’s career-high 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors nearly a decade ago?

“Not a chance,” Curry told Los Angeles News Group. “There’s a reason why people are still talking about that game to this day. It’s so special.”

Yes, Bryant’s career game still represents the NBA’s second-highest scoring performance behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. But Bryant does not consider the milestone special enough to think his record will remain sacred.

Said Bryant: “It’s just a matter of you have to believe it’s possible.”

The Lakers (12-51) enter Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors (55-5) at Staples Center with Curry doing what was once considered impossible.

He has averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game despite playing only 33.9 minutes per contest. He has ranked first this season in posting 30-point games (29), 40-point games (11) and 50-point games (three). He shattered his own single-season three-point record (293) still with 22 games remaining.

According to NBA.com, Curry has made 3-pointers from basically anywhere, including the right corner (53.3%), the left corner (45.3%) and at the top of the key (46.5%). Very few can guard Curry no matter the distance, including shots from 10-14 feet (54.5%), 15-19 feet (39.7%), 20-24 feet (48%), 25-29 feet (45.9%) and 30-34 feet (58.3%).

Could all those numbers add up to what Bryant did on Jan. 22, 2006?

“Steph is a talented enough scorer that you could definitely say it’s a possibility.”said Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who played with Bryant during his record-setting night. “But it’s not very realistic. If we’re blowing someone out, he’s going to rest.”

Curry needed all 48 minutes to post a career-high 54 points on Feb. 27, 2013 against New York. Curry logged 36 minutes to score a season-high 53 points on Oct. 31, 2015 against New Orleans. Then there marked six games Curry played under 30 minutes this season amid the Warriors coasting to a double-digit victory. Through swarming double teams or rare off nights, Curry can still dish to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala.

“If there’s one guy in the league that has a chance of doing it, it would be him,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Curry. “But they’ve got so many weapons that’s it not needed from him to have that type of game to shoot it 40 times.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES:  It appears that former Atlanta Hawks lottery pick Josh Childress is taking his talents to the D-League … The Los Angeles Clippers stumbled through a Thunder hangover when they fell at home to the Hawks … Erik Spoelstra says Chris Bosh is working out with the Heat staff … Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has a fan in Kevin Durant … The Rockets fire back at their critics with a big win in Toronto

 

Morning shootaround — Feb. 17


VIDEO: Breaking down Tuesday’s three-team trade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Clippers, Magic talking deal | Report: Wizards pursuing Anderson | Report: Rockets, Hornets had Howard trade talks | Prokhorov pens open letter | Report: Nets offer GM job to MarksFuture unclear for Bucks’ Carter-Williams | Griffin apologizes publicly for incident

No. 1: Report: Magic, Clippers talking deal; Wizards pursuing Anderson — We’re a day away from the trade deadline, which means talk is bubbling up everywhere and anywhere. How much of what is discussed vs. what happens in reality remains an unknown, but the latest from overnight is that several teams are knee-deep in trade discussions. The targets du jour include Channing Frye, Lance Stephenson, Kevin Martin and Ryan Anderson. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski gets us started with the latest from Orlando and some other outposts:

The Los Angeles Clippers are pushing closer on a deal to acquire Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye but want to finish exploring a larger trade scenario before finalizing an agreement, league sources told The Vertical.

Frye is enthusiastic about the chance to join the Clippers, league sources said. Nevertheless, Cleveland also has been discussing a deal for Frye, and could still be aggressive in pursuing him prior to completion of a Clippers trade.

The Clippers need to include Lance Stephenson‘s contract into the package for Frye, and told the Magic they need until Wednesday to finish pursuing what it is a long-shot larger deal, league sources said. As part of the deal for Frye, the Clippers would include Stephenson, C.J. Wilcox and a future second-round pick, league sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are pushing hard to find a trade for forward Ryan Anderson, whom they expect to lose in summer free agency, league sources said.

Teams trading for Anderson believe he’ll command a starting salary of $16 million-$18 million a season in free agency.

New Orleans and Detroit had serious talks on an Anderson deal in the past few days, sources said, but the Pistons ultimately reached an agreement with Orlando on a trade for Tobias Harris on Tuesday.

The issue for the Pistons – and several teams around the league interested in Anderson – remains this: How much will it cost to re-sign Anderson this summer in free agency? With Harris, the Pistons have cost-certainty on the three-years, $48 million on his deal through the 2018-’19 season.

Minnesota hasn’t been actively searching for a trade for point guard Ricky Rubio this week, but that is likely to change this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

Minnesota may start canvassing the market for a better shooting point guard to pair with young stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. One NBA coach who has long been enamored with Rubio, league sources said: Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd. The New York Knicks’ desire to find a point guard could lead them to Rubio, too.

Minnesota has wanted to move guard Kevin Martin, but a deal is unlikely unless he’s willing to forgo the $7 million player option on the final year of his contract in 2016-2017, league sources said. That is unlikely, given that Martin would be hard-pressed to recoup that money on the market.

BasketballInsiders.com’s Steve Kyler reports the Washington Wizards may also be hot on the trail of Ryan Anderson:

If the Clippers cannot consummate a deal with the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson, expect the Washington Wizards to return to the front of the line for Anderson in trade. The Wizards have made several passes at New Orleans on Anderson but are unwilling to include draft picks in their offer.

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors finally lose | Gentry, Pelicans look to move up | NBPA offers heart help | Harden remains a Kobe fan

No. 1: Warriors finally lose Turns out the Golden State Warriors are human after all. Sure, they managed to win 24 in a row to start the season, but on the seventh game of a road trip, less than 24 hours after a double-OT win in Boston, it all caught up with the Warriors, as they lost in Milwaukee, 108-95. And now, as our own Steve Aschburner writes, the Warriors begin the real work of trying to improve and expand on that historic start…

The Warriors’ streak ended at 24 victories as their long road trip, a succession of opponents’ best efforts and their own human frailties (mostly fatigue) reared up in a 108-95 loss to Milwaukee.

The Bucks did so much right. Center Greg Monroe (28 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) asserted his bigness against the NBA’s most dangerous band of smalls. Giannis Antetokounmpo (11 points, 12 boards, 10 assists) picked the best possible time to post the first triple-double of his young, versatile career. O.J. Mayo put starch in the home team’s shorts early, while Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams saved their best for later. And Milwaukee’s lanky, reaching defense held the previously perfect defending champions under 100 points for the first time this season, limiting them to just six 3-point field goals in 26 attempts.

What did the Warriors do wrong? Nothing, really, beyond succumbing to the wear and tear of their record-setting start to the season. Stephen Curry scored 28 with seven rebounds and five assists but backcourt mate Klay Thompson was off after missing Friday’s double-overtime game in Boston with a sprained ankle. The bench, other than Festus Ezeli, brought little offensively.

Still, to pick at them any more would seem out of line. Only one team in league history — or two, depending on how you’re counting — ever strung together more victories: the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers won 33 in a row, and the 2012-13 Miami Heat got to 27. Golden State made it to 28, if you count the four victories in April at the end of last season, or 24 if you don’t.

Just in terms of this season, the Warriors went 47 days deep into 2015-16 before they lost for the first time. None of the NBA’s other teams lasted more than 10.

“Y’all thought we were gonna be sad, huh?” Draymond Green said to reporters milling about, long after the final horn and the green confetti preloaded by the Bucks’ operations crew in hopes of precisely what happened.

While the Bucks were thrilled — their 10-15 start largely had been a disappointment until Saturday — and their sellout crowd of 18,717 was giddy, the Warriors were a long ways from sad.

Green even made sure of that, speaking up immediately afterward to the crew that had accomplished so much. The streak is dead? Long live the season.

“I just told the guys that now we can have a regular season,” the all-purpose Warriors forward said. “It’s been kind of a playoff feel to this, with the streak and all the media and attention around. But our goal was always to get better each and every time we get on the floor. … I think that, probably the last seven or eight games, we’ve stopped getting better and we’ve just tried to win games.”

Interim head coach Luke Walton had talked longingly for several days of teachable moments, the “issues that get swept under the rug” when a team keeps winning. It’s hard to be hyper-critical, and to get players’ attention, when small flaws don’t undermine the big picture.

Now the Warriors can exhale. And clean a few things up.

“We didn’t have our shots falling and we were a little slow on our defensive rotations,” said Walton, filling in while head coach Steve Kerr recovers from back issues. “It happens. It takes nothing away from what they’ve done to start the season.”

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No. 2: Gentry, Pelicans look to move up — After a playoff appearance last season, the New Orleans Pelicans hired a new coach, Alvin Gentry, away from Golden State and embraced higher expectations for this season. Only, it hasn’t worked out that way. Sure, the Warriors have been rolling, but the Pelicans have been beset by injuries, making it hard to implement Gentry’s system. And as Jeff Duncan writes for Nola.com, for now the Pelicans are just focused on getting out of the Western Conference basement.

Where Gentry finds himself today isn’t where he expected to be six months ago when he accepted the head coaching job here. After Friday night’s 107-105 victory against Washington, the Pelicans are 6-16 and holding company with the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference cellar.

Gentry already has lost more games with the Pelicans than he did all of last season as an assistant with the Warriors (67-15).

“It’s difficult,” Gentry said. “I didn’t anticipate having a record like this. I’m sure the guys didn’t anticipate having a record like this.”

This wasn’t what Gentry signed up for last May. At age 61, New Orleans was likely Gentry’s final chance as a head coach. After struggling in previous stints with the Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans represented a shot at redemption, a chance to resurrect his head coaching career and move his career won-loss record from red to black. Here, he had Anthony Davis, one of the best young players in the world, and a talented young core in place around him. All systems were go — until they weren’t.

Injuries beset the roster before the Pelicans took their first dribbles. Gentry’s team opened the regular season against Golden State with projected starters Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik and key reserve Quincy Pondexter sidelined. Gentry took the court one night without six of his top eight players because of various maladies.

He’s fielded 13 different starting lineups in 22 games and is still defining roles and playing time as key regulars work their way back into the mix.

“Really we’re going through a training camp right now,” Gentry said. “The injury bug has bit us, and we didn’t anticipate that. We have to commit ourselves to make a conscious effort to get ourselves back in the race.”

To get there, the Pelicans must start playing more consistently, with better effort and execution nightly. Gentry is as confounded as anyone as to how the Pelicans can beat Cleveland one night then turn around and get blown out at home by Boston three nights later.

Gentry lit into his troops for what he thought was their half-hearted effort in a 111-93 loss to Boston on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

While he arrived in New Orleans with the reputation as a genial players’ coach, Gentry has shown he’s not afraid to bust out the “over-18 lecture” when necessary.

“He’s liable to cuss us out if we don’t compete or execute the plays,” Holiday said.

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No. 3: NBPA offers heart help After several former NBA players passed away this summer from heart-related issues, the National Basketball Player’s Association announced plans to offer free heart- and health-care screenings for retired players. The first of those cardiac screenings happened this weekend in Houston, writes ESPN’s J.A. Adande…

About 25 retired NBA players showed up for the screenings, which included heart testing. The NBPA initiated talks on the screenings at their July meetings, and the effort was given added urgency with the heart-related deaths of Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

In a conference room provided by the Houston Rockets, physicians met with the retired players to discuss their medical history, test blood pressure, administer EKGs to check the heart’s electrical activity, perform an echocardiogram to check the structure of the heart, scan carotids to look for plaque buildup in the arteries, check for sleep apnea and draw blood. The retired players also received attachments for their cellphones that can perform EKGs and send the results to cardiologists.

“Even in this small sample of patients that we’ve done, we’ve been able to get some abnormalities,” said Dr. Manuel Reyes, a cardiologist with Houston Cardiovascular Associates at the Houston Medical Center. “A couple of incidents with decreased heart function, weakened left ventricle, which is the main chamber of the heart.”

Since 2000, more than 50 former NBA players have died of complications related to heart disease, according to the Philadelphia-based news site Billy Penn. It is unclear if basketball players are more susceptible to heart disease, which was one of the secondary aspects of screening former players.

“That’s one of the things that we’re looking to benefit is the research component,” said Joe Rogowski, the players’ union director of sports medicine and research. “We’re looking for trends. There’s never been a real study that looks at this population and looks for norms and trends. They’re bigger. They carry more weight, which leads to other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Union executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver both said earlier this year that cardiac testing was a high priority. Silver said the NBA was prepared to provide the union with both financial support and a vast array of medical resources.

Union representatives presented their vision of comprehensive screening for retirees to current players at their annual Las Vegas meeting in July. Sources said players voted to set aside funds to implement screenings. The larger — and more costly — issue of supplementing health insurance is slated to be addressed at their February meetings, when a more comprehensive blueprint would be available.

The ages of the deceased players are alarming. Malone was 60. Dawkins was 58. Caldwell Jones, who died last year, was 64. Other recent deaths of former players include Jack Haley, 51, and Anthony Mason, 48.

“Something’s got to be done,” said Rogowski, who was an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for 10 years in the NBA. “The NFL is dealing with their issues with retired players. This may be our issue that we’re dealing with retired players on.”

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No. 4: Harden remains a Kobe fan Greatness attracts greatness, and as Rockets guard James Harden explains, after growing up in California, he had been a Kobe Bryant fan for years. But later, he was able to become a Kobe friend. And as Jonathan Feigan writes in the Houston Chronicle, Harden is looking forward to squaring off against Bryant this week in a Houston stop on his farewell tour…

James Harden had long known what he wanted in life. Before the shoe deals and stardom, before the first stubble on his chin, he had watched Kobe Bryant in his prime, young and gifted, hungry for greatness and a place in NBA history. That was, Harden decided, what he wanted.

“Kobe was my guy,” Harden said. “I was a Laker fan. And I was a Kobe fan. Always.”

Eventually, when Harden finally had his first chance to face his hero, Bryant might have seen something in Harden, too. They will face one another again Saturday night in Toyota Center as Bryant’s farewell tour rolls through Houston. But their first meeting came far removed from the NBA, far from the media circus that follows Bryant through his final season.

They met in a summer pickup game at Loyola-Marymount. Harden was not in awe, he said, but remembered the day as more special than all the summer sessions to come.

“I wanted to go at him,” Harden said, indicating he learned his lessons well.

“I remember he came in the gym, took off his shirt and was like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” said Harden’s agent, Rob Pelinka, who also represents Bryant. “Kobe was (Harden’s favorite) because he works so hard.”

Years later, Harden considers Bryant a friend. He received texts from Bryant before last season’s playoffs encouraging him, as if welcoming Harden to that highest echelon of stardom.

“He’s my guy,” Harden said. “We talk. He’s a pretty cool guy. Obviously, on the court, he’s a beast. He does whatever it takes to win games. He’s a winner. He’s passionate about it. But obviously off the court, he’s so savvy. He’s business-minded.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is Dave Joerger‘s seat getting warmer in Memphis? … The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for a few more weeks … Gregg Popovich said Kobe’s retirement will mean “a great personality gone” … Dwyane Wade would like to own an NBA team someday … LeBron James made good after losing a friendly wager against Draymond Green …

Back and Forth with Bones: Some Growing Pains in Milwaukee


VIDEO: LeBron James’ 27 points lead the Cavs over the Bucks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers ended a two-game losing streak, avenged a weekend loss, and improved to 9-3 with a 115-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

The Cavs shot 56 percent and scored 115 points on just 86 possessions, which says a lot about both their offense and Milwaukee’s defense. The Bucks (5-7) went from 29th in defensive efficiency in 2013-14 to second in Jason Kidd‘s first season, but are right back where they started after 11 games.

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent “Bones” Barry, who called the game for TNT, went back and forth afterward, discussing the Bucks’ issues on both ends of the floor and where they are in their development.

Schuhmann: So what’s the difference between last season’s Milwaukee defense and this season’s Milwaukee defense?

Barry: Some tell-tale signs have to do with some basic fundamentals of a very good NBA defense. And that’s one, communication and, two, trust in one another that guys are going to be in the right spots at the right times.

Talking to Jason Kidd, in the early part of this season, the Bucks are doing A decently and doing B decently, but when they get to C, there’s nobody home. There’s missing the last step to finish off a possession.

Some of that has to do with a variety of lineups. They’ve had seven different starting lineups to start the season. They’ve had key pieces out of games. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, Jabari Parker, John Henson and O.J. Mayo have all missed games. Greg Monroe is a new addition.

So there’s so much disconnect in terms of who’s playing that it’s affected how much they trust one another to begin the year. They’re not playing as hard on that end as they’re capable of, and they know it.

The main thing that Jason kept talking about was “We’re young. We miss Zaza [Pachulia] and we miss Jared Dudley and we miss Ersan [Ilyasova], because those guys have experience. We have no veteran players.”

So there’s nobody but the coaching staff to talk about what it’s like to come in every day to work and what your role is.

Schuhmann: Going back to their defense, their scheme puts so much pressure on those second and third rotations. They load up the strong side and when the ball is swung, the pressure is on the weak-side guys to close out, contest and contain.

Barry: They have to close out properly. Great defenses close out on shooters to direct the ball to a certain area of the floor, because you trust that the next guy in the rotation is there.

Last night, there were glaring examples of how ineffective and how inactive the Bucks’ hands are, in terms of deflections and denials. I’ve looked at some numbers on their pressure rate, and it’s way down.

They had so many miscommunications on switches. That’s something that they absolutely can do, but they don’t communicate well. When they give space, they’re going to get beat. Especially in the first half against Cleveland, they had no awareness of where shooters were. They were much better in the second half, but that cost them and gave them such a deficit that their offense is incapable of having bursts to catch up to teams, especially Cleveland.

Schuhmann: That Milwaukee offense is very slow and deliberate. The Bucks rank 30th in pace and they’ve attempted just 10.8 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the sixth lowest rate in the league.

Barry: They run corner series. They don’t run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Maybe other than Jerryd Bayless, they don’t have effective pick-and-roll players. And they don’t go in transition.

They’re trying to get better ball movement, but better slashing. But when you have combinations of players who haven’t played with one another, it’s very difficult to read your teammates if you don’t know what they like to do and when they like to do it. And that’s costing them a lot of possessions on offense, where they just aren’t in synch.

Schuhmann: They did have a relatively efficient offensive game on Thursday and had some success in the third quarter with Greivis Vasquez and Khris Middleton running side pick-and-roll to get a switch against Middleton in the post.

Barry: The 1-2. But that was against Matthew Dellavedova and Richard Jefferson. I don’t know if it’s that effective against a quicker, better defensive backcourt.

Jason went to that several times and it helped them get some shots, but that’s a single-option thing. If you score a couple of times and then they double you, what’s next? Right now, there’s no next on the offensive end of the floor.

Schuhmann: A similar thing that they do is set a back-screen to get the opposing point guard switching onto Middleton in the post. It gets them some good looks, but like you said, opponents are going to adjust to it pretty quickly.

Barry: I don’t know how much more effective that is late in the shot clock. It’s probably better to get side-to-side movement and then that action late, rather than broadcast it with the post-up on the first pass, where the defense can load up and be in good rebounding position.

One thing that bothered me is that they’re getting pushed up so high on the initial catch in the corner series. When Monroe sets up at the elbow and a guy like Tristan Thompson pushes him from the elbow to the 3-point line, the corner series doesn’t work.

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You can’t make passes to back-door cutters from the 3-point line. A dribble hand-off is too far away to create a good angle for the offense.

Schuhmann: When Kidd was coaching in Brooklyn, I covered a Knicks-Nets game where the Nets didn’t run pick-and-roll for most of the first half against an opponent that was just dreadful at defending pick-and-rolls (and coincidentally employed Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire).

That Nets team did have some good pick-and-roll guards, but just kept running the offense through the bigs at the elbow, which was often a struggle. You have to have a pick-and-roll game to take advantage of the Bargnanis and Enes Kanters of the world.

Barry: Now, there was some signs tonight. Giannis was spectacular. He showed so much versatility in his game and did a decent job on LeBron James.


VIDEO: Giannis’ 33 points

When you play Giannis and Parker together, you can pick and choose weaker defenders at the three and four spots to take advantage of their quickness and what they can do handling the ball. Jason explored that in the second half to the Bucks’ advantage. They picked on Kevin Love a little bit, on Thompson a little bit, with those guys playing off the elbow to create some offense.

But until they’re complete and until they do some growing up… It just sounds like where they want to go is three or four years down the road.

Schuhmann: It was kind of fun to see the Bucks’ elicit some Spurs-esque ball movement (Example 1, Example 2) from Cleveland last night.

Barry: The Cavs did do a nice job. And with Mo Williams out, Dellavedova had 13 assists, doing a nice job of taking what the defense was going to give him. He penetrated and drew two guys…

And that’s part of the learning process for the Bucks. What’s the point in going over to double-team Dellavedova? Why would you step over the median line and commit to the strong side, when that’s the guy you’d rather have try and score on you?

But yeah, that was encouraging for the Cavs to move the ball like they did and not have LeBron need to take over multiple possessions in a row to make things happen. They had other guys making things happen.

Schuhmann: I can’t remember a single possession where LeBron stopped the ball, backed out to the 3-point line and killed clock with his isolation dance.

Barry: We flashed a graphic with a little over a minute to go in the fourth quarter that LeBron had 19 passes and zero field goal attempts in the period. That was probably the least amount of energy he’s had to expend in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs secure a win.

Schuhmann: And their shot chart – minimal mid-range shots, mostly layups and threes – was what you’d want.

20151119_cle_shot_chart

You mentioned in the broadcast how they also took advantage of the Bucks’ weak-side guards having to defend duck-ins from the Cleveland bigs.

Barry: When the ball was on the wing, the Bucks’ brought a second defender over, where they weren’t coming to double-team, but just coming over and squatting on the box. I understand the strategy, but you’re committing a guy to space and not to double the ball, which is [expletive].

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So they got caught on that a lot.

Schuhmann: The Bucks’ defense, even when it’s playing well, is banking on the fact that they can recover to the weak side before you get the ball there. But there’s no skip-passer in the league better than LeBron.

Barry: J-Kidd said before the game, “We can not allow fastballs.” I hadn’t heard that term before, but I knew what he was talking about. He said, “You let LeBron throw fastballs for threes, we’re never going to get to the shooters.”

If you don’t get into his body, you’re going to get killed.

Numbers notes: Cavaliers and Warriors among most improved


VIDEO: Curry’s big night vs. the Clippers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The two teams that reached The Finals in June aren’t just off to strong starts. No, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are two of the most improved teams in the league, statistically.

We’re just 10 days into the 2015-16 season, with only 74 (six percent) of 1,230 games in the books. So far, there have been some surprising results, some disappointments, and a lot of teams playing much faster than they did last season.

It’s still too early to draw any real conclusions from what we’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore it. If everything is put in context, it’s certainly worth looking into the numbers this early.

We’ll spare the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Rockets this week, and focus on the positive. Here are some notes on the league’s most improved teams and players through 10 days …

Most improved offenses

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  • Charlotte has turned some mid-range shots into 3-pointers, which will help long term. But their top-5 ranking is a result of two good offensive games this week after scoring less than a point per possession in their first three. They ranked last in both field goal percentage in the restricted area and in 3-point percentage last season, so they had nowhere to go but up.
  • If Golden State remains one of the league’s most improved offensive teams, they will challenge the ’96 Bulls record of 72 wins. You’ll see the MVP in the most improved shooters list below, but where the Warriors have improved most is in turnover rate and free throw rate. Those two numbers are more likely (than shooting or rebounding) to stay consistent from a team’s first five games through the full season. So that’s kind of scary.
  • New York was looking to run in its first three games, and more shots early in the clock gave their offense a boost. But here are their fast break points, by game: 19, 17, 10, 0, 0. They need to get back in the open floor.

Most improved defenses

20151106_impr_defrtg

Most improved shooters

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  • Giannis Antetokounmpo improved his mid-range shooting in the second half of last season, but this improvement isn’t a continuation of that. He’s taken only three shots from mid-range this season, with 40 of his 54 shots coming in the restricted area. More layups = better shooting.
  • It’s not fair that Stephen Curry ranks as the third most improved shooter this season. But shooting 58 percent (19-for-33) on pull-up threes isn’t sustainable … maybe. Curry shot 42 percent on pull-up threes last season.
  • Blake Griffin is a mean 24-for-28 (86 percent) in the restricted area and an improved 21-for-45 (47 percent) from mid-range. The mid-range number is the more important one. Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper, but 47 percent (Dirk Nowitzki‘s career mark) is about as good as it gets from mid-range, where Griffin is still taking almost half of his shots.