Posts Tagged ‘Hakeem Olajuwon’

With Change Comes Improvement For Lin


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin shows off an improved 3-point stroke in a win over Philly

HOUSTON — When Jeremy Lin stepped back onto the court at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago, the signs were there. A throng of reporters around his locker, the kind of electrical hum that comes off power lines filling the air.

Linsanity, it was said, had returned, when in fact nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Despite having filled up the hoop with 31 and 34 points in the Rockets’ previous two games, this was not Lin making headlines around the basketball globe with every step, just a guy trying to make shots.

The stats say Lin has been a better shooter this season than last, his field goal percentage is up from 44.1 to 50.6 and his 3-point shooting improved from 33.9 to 39.7.

The eyes say that he is a better player, too. He’s playing with more confidence and a sense of true belonging that’s better than what he had during those surreal 2 1/2 weeks with the Knicks when he (seemingly) had the NBA world in the palm of his hand.

That was a time that was never built to last. These are the days that are determining Lin’s place in the NBA as either a footnote or a foot soldier.

“Jeremy’s played very well, doing the things we’ve asked him to do,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “It’s like I’ve said over and over and like I’ve told Jeremy many times, nobody could ever keep up with that pace of play that he had during those few weeks in New York. It’s just not realistic.

“I always thought there was going to be some leveling off last season when he came to us, but the truth is I was never as disappointed in him as a lot of people on the outside, and maybe Jeremy, were in him. For a guy who was playing what really amounted to his rookie season in the league, I thought he did well and there were things he had to work on.”

The most obvious was Lin’s shot, which had a hitch at the top and rarely looked comfortable as he let the ball fly. He spent the summer breaking the shot down, rebuilding it and learning to repeat it with constant use in workouts with Dwight Howard in Colorado and James Harden in California. Lin doesn’t pause anymore or look to pass the ball when he gets open perimeter shots. In raising his scoring average to 16.3 points per game, Lin has made at least half his attempts 10 times in the Rockets’ first 15 games.

“I’ve seen him shoot the ball all summer,” Howard said. “I know he can shoot the ball. We want him and need him to feel that it’s his place to shoot the ball.”

Lin is doing it while still trying to find his place in the Rockets’ rotation. McHale made the decision to open the season with Pat Beverley as the starting point guard. However, due to injuries to Beverley and Harden, Lin has since started seven games. He played 31 1/2 minutes, scored 14 points and shot 4-for-8 on Monday night as the Rockets came from behind to win at Memphis, but during the comeback Lin was sitting on the bench. As was Howard.

What Lin has improved as much as his shot is his ability to handle change, embrace new roles and ignore all of the outside-the-game distractions.

While the Twitterverse and knee-jerk over-reaction of the online world has tried to stir up a contest or a controversy with Harden and him — it is, you know, supposed to be a team sport — Lin just keeps moving forward. There are still defensive deficiencies, though he is considerably better, and even more attentive there than Harden. There is still the matter of trying to get all of these disparate parts of the Rockets to fit together.

Howard isn’t the explosive low post presence that he used to be back in Orlando either, 1-on-1 tutoring from Hakeem Olajuwon be damned. But there have been the indications that Lin has recovered a bit of the what-do-I-care swagger that was missing from his game last season as he tried to free himself from the weight of Linsanity.

“I’ll never forget that experience and I wouldn’t want to forget any of it,” he said. “There are some negatives in the aftermath that have made some things difficult. But let’s face it, it also opened up a lot of opportunities for me. In the end, I just can’t let it define me.”

Others have done enough of that already, trying to make more of an issue and a stir about his Lin’s shift to a reserve role and his place in the Rockets’ offensive hierarchy. Next season is the $15 million “poison pill” part of his contract the Rockets constructed in his three-year deal that helped sweep him their way. Clever then, indeed. But will Lin be that level of player, able to hold up under the scrutiny that will come again with the big raise?

It’s a question and a problem that can wait. For now, Jeremy Lin is content to take steps.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will to play tonight vs. Bobcats | Anthony: ‘We have to figure this out’ | Hakeem can’t wait to help Howard | Nelson gets minutes cut in Orlando

No. 1: D-Will cleared to rejoin Nets — Few teams this early in the season can match the talent/name-recognition level and disappointment that the Brooklyn Nets boast. Off to a 3-7 start and bringing up the caboose of the Atlantic Division with the New York Knicks, the Nets have lost five of their last six games and experienced most of their struggles without star point guard Deron Williams. Brooklyn got a dose of good news yesterday, though, with word that Williams’ troublesome ankle is feeling better and he will be able to play tonight against the Bobcats, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com. Center Brook Lopez may be back in the linup as well.:

The Nets’ starting point guard said he will play at Charlotte on Wednesday after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle. Williams injured his left ankle against Phoenix on Nov. 15 and hasn’t played since.

He practiced Tuesday and said there will be no restrictions on him when he returns.

“Nope,” Williams said when asked if there will be a minutes limit. “I’m going to play.”

The Nets (3-7) have lost five of their last six games and can use their top point guard back. Williams, who missed the majority of camp with a right ankle injury, is averaging 10 points and 6.5 assists per game this season.

“He looked good,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We had a good practice. Deron looked good.”

The Nets’ health is improving at a critical time, as they play five of their next seven on the road. Center Brook Lopez, who has also missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, said he feels good enough to play.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be, that’s not up to me,” said Lopez, who landed on teammate Kevin Garnett‘s foot during the Nets’ win over the Suns last Friday. “I feel good. I feel like I could play. I’m not the one calling the shots there. We’ve got to think about long-term.”

***

No. 2: Anthony: ‘Got to figure this out’ — In last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony lost his cool and was whistled for a technical foul in the third quarter and Amar’e Stoudemire was called for one, too, in the fourth quarter. As New York lost its third straight game, Anthony was left searching for answers as a big date with the Indiana Pacers looms tonight, wrties Anthony Rieber of Newsday:

After the Knicks fell to 3-7 with a 92-86 loss to the Pistons Tuesday night, a frustrated Carmelo Anthony was asked to assess just what the heck is going on.

“I don’t know,” Anthony said. “We’re losing. It’s a messed-up feeling. A hurt feeling. Got to figure it out. That’s the only thing I can say about this. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

How quick? By about 7 p.m. would be nice. That’s when the 9-1 Indiana Pacers will be at the Garden, where the Knicks are 1-5 this season. The Pacers, as you recall, knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs last season.

“I think right now it’s just a matter of wanting it more,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to want it more [Wednesday night], especially on our home court. There’s some bitter feelings, knowing that they knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so hopefully that gives us some momentum, some energy, some confidence and some anger to go out there and play with.”

With 4:09 left in the third quarter and the Knicks trailing by four, Anthony was called for the technical after missing a jumper. Anthony had been complaining all night about not getting calls when he was (in his opinion) fouled by the Pistons.

Less than a minute later, Anthony was called for an offensive foul. Then he blew past Andre Drummond (13 points, 11 rebounds) and hit a layup for what Anthony considered a foul and continuation for what could have been a three-point play.

But the ruling was a non-shooting foul and the basket didn’t count. A flabbergasted Anthony immediately walked to the bench. “It’s kind of hard when you’re out there dealing with that,” he said. “When you think things should be going your way and it’s not. Thinking something should be called but it’s not. I’ve got to fight through that.”

Stoudemire, who had six points in 15:07 and isn’t expected to play Wednesday night, was whistled for a technical for arguing as the Knicks appeared to be losing their cool.


VIDEO:
Anthony on Knicks’ struggles, lack of effort

***

No. 3: Olajuwon itching to help Howard — After Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets in the offseason, much was made (in this space and elsewhere) of his working with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to further polish his post moves. Since the start of the season, Howard’s offensive game has lagged and he has received plenty of criticism, with TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley being among the foremost ones. Our own Fran Blinebury caught up with Olajuwon, who is in his native Nigera to launch a basketball initiative for youth, about Howard’s play and more:

The Hall of Famer was speaking Tuesday from Nigeria, where he was helping to launch a basketball initiative for youth. Even from half a world away, though, Olajuwon was thinking about the struggles of his current pupil, Howard, who he mentored in the offseason after the big man signed a four-year, $88-million free agent contract with the Rockets, Olajuwon’s former team.

“The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who left Houston in early October to return to his home in Amman, Jordan and has been keeping track of his pupil on TV. “I wish he was doing a better job.

“Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.

“There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up. You must be the one making the first move so that you can force the defender to always be the one reacting.

“I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.”

Olajuwon, who was a .712 shooter on free throws through his 18-year NBA career, has cringed long distance while watching Howard make a career low .531 from the foul line this season.

“I think this is where a confident routines comes in,” Olajuwon said. “It’s not just putting in hours and hours of work. It’s getting a solid routine and staying with it. With Dwight right now, I think it’s more mental. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. Just trust your routine and let it go.

“I won’t say that you can’t ever win a championship as a big man if you don’t shoot free throws well, because Shaq did it four times. But it can be a deciding factor, so you want to fix it.”

***

No. 4: Nelson takes high road on playing time – In Orlando Magic history, only two players have played more games for the franchise than Jameer Nelson and no other player has as many assists in Orlando as Nelson does. In short, Nelson is and has been a great player for the Magic for years. But as the team moves into a younger phase and tries to get prized rookie Victor Oladipo more minutes at point guard, Nelson has seen his playing time crunched. Such was the case in a road loss to Dallas, where Nelson sat the final 17 minutes of the game in favor of Oladipo. Despite the playing time cut, Nelson is trying to stay as classy as possible about the move, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

Coach Jacque Vaughn kept Nelson on the bench throughout the final 17 minutes of Saturday night’s 108-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Vaughn employed rookie Victor Oladipo instead of Nelson at point guard even though Nelson had played well on offense and Oladipo was struggling with turnovers.

“The thing about it is, obviously, I want to play and I want to compete,” Nelson said Monday when he was asked about the situation.

“I’m a competitor and I want to win, so I wanted to be on the court. Coach decided not to play me, and that’s his decision. I can only play the minutes that he gives me, play them as hard as I can and leave it out there for those minutes. It’s his decision who’s going to play the minutes and when they’re going to play them. And our job as players is, like I said, to play those minutes as best we can.”

Nelson wants to remain with the Magic for years to come. At 31 years old, he should have at least several productive seasons ahead of him and would prefer to spend those seasons on the court instead of on the bench.

On Monday, Vaughn was asked whether he anticipates using Oladipo as the Magic’s primary ball-handler down the stretches of close games the rest of the season.

“It kind of depends,” Vaughn answered.

“A lot of times we’ve been playing with three guards in the rotation. There’s been times when he’s been in where Jameer is handling [the basketball]. I think that’ll be [determined by the] opposition and what opportunities we have on the floor. The ball was in [Oladipo's] hands against Dallas. We made them react to us. They started double-teaming him, and so we were able to dictate a little bit. So that was positive for us.”

Vaughn said he wanted to give Oladipo the experience of running the Magic offense during a close game, because those scenarios can’t be simulated in practice.

Team officials want to test Oladipo and determine over the course of the season whether he can be a fulltime point guard in the NBA. They believe Oladipo’s confidence can withstand rough outings, and they also believe he’ll improve as the season continues.

But the decision to play Oladipo over Nelson in the fourth quarter of a winnable matchup also opens the Magic to accusations that they are tanking games to enhance their chances of picking early in the talent-rich 2014 NBA Draft.

Magic officials still regard Nelson as one of their best leaders.

True to form, he said he won’t change his game or his demeanor.

“My game is still the same: to go out and attack and create things for myself or for my teammates and to lead and to do things in a professional manner,” Nelson said. “I’m going to continue to do that no matter what’s going on and what the speculations are and what people say. I’m still me and I’m still going to play like me.”


VIDEO:
Oladipo on playing point guard, facing the Heat next

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson is getting frustrated by his lingering ankle injury … Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova says he’s ready to return to the lineup

ICYMI Of The Night: The Suns’ Gerald Green just keeps one-upping himself with his in-game dunks this season, with last night’s make-sure-I-don’t-bang-my-face-on-the-backboard jam being the latest entry …


VIDEO: Gerald Green soars in for a spectacular one-handed slam

Olajuwon The Teacher On Dwight Howard


VIDEO: NBA stars seek out Olajuwon to learn the secrets of post play

Many years before he became mentor to the stars, teaching the fine art of his post moves to the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard (among others), a young Hakeem Olajuwon was a Nigerian student who found answers on the basketball court. “The game was introduced at my school and I learned it from scratch,” Olajuwon said. “I learned about the rules and how to play basketball and I also learned about work ethic, teamwork and communication. Those are tools that are part of a successful life in or out of sports.”

The Hall of Famer was speaking Tuesday from Nigeria, where he was helping to launch a basketball initiative for youth. Even from half a world away, though, Olajuwon was thinking about the struggles of his current pupil, Howard, who he mentored in the offseason after the big man signed a four-year, $88-million free agent contract with the Rockets, Olajuwon’s former team.

“The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who left Houston in early October to return to his home in Amman, Jordan and has been keeping track of his pupil on TV. “I wish he was doing a better job.

“Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.

“There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up. You must be the one making the first move so that you can force the defender to always be the one reacting.

“I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.”

Olajuwon plans to return to Houston prior to the NBA All-Star break in February and will remain in Houston through the end of the season and the playoffs.

“Maybe if I am there with him all of the time we can reinforce new habits and make it all feel natural,” Olajuwon said.

Olajuwon, who was a .712 shooter on free throws through his 18-year NBA career, has cringed long distance while watching Howard make a career low .531 from the foul line this season.

“I think this is where a confident routines comes in,” Olajuwon said. “It’s not just putting in hours and hours of work. It’s getting a solid routine and staying with it. With Dwight right now, I think it’s more mental. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. Just trust your routine and let it go.

“I won’t say that you can’t ever win a championship as a big man if you don’t shoot free throws well, because Shaq did it four times. But it can be a deciding factor, so you want to fix it.”

***

Olajuwon, fellow countryman and former NBA player Obinna Ekezie and WNBA champion Swin Cash have joined with the NBA, WNBA, Africare and ExxonMobil to announce the launch of Power Forward, a youth engagement initiative that will use basketball to develop health, leadership and life skills.

The program is being introduced at 10 public and private high schools in Abuja, Nigeria, and will engage 300 students, evenly divided between boys and girls.

Olajuwon, Ekezie and Cash joined 100 youth participants on the court for a series of basketball drills. Basketball is Nigeria’s second-most popular sport with increased interest at the grass-roots level, following the national team’s first-ever qualification for the 2012 Olympics. More than 20 current and former players with Nigerian descent have played in the NBA, more than any other African country.

“When I was growing up, I knew nothing about the NBA,” Olajuwon said. “We couldn’t see games. They weren’t on TV. My goal in playing basketball was to get a scholarship to attend college in America and the rest of my professional career just happened.

“These kids today are from a different generation. They didn’t know me from personal experience. But they did their homework on the Internet. I was surprised to know how much they learned. They are full of energy and enthusiasm and the goal of the Power Forward program is take that energy and channel it into ways that can make productive lives. This is a way that politicians, corporations and educators can unite to get the most out of the next generation.”

Rockets Legend Calvin Murphy Sees Crucial Flaw In Howard’s FT Form


VIDEO: Dwight Howard doesn’t want to talk about his free throw issues

There was another time in Rockets history when free throws were a hot topic of conversation.

Before analytics broke down every inhale and exhale, before Twitter delivered a world of helpful experts and second-guessers, Rick Barry, Calvin Murphy and Mike Newlin didn’t need assistance at the foul line.

In fact, in the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons, every time a referee signaled a technical foul on the other team, there was a race to grab the ball and a scrum ensued as the threesome jockeyed among themselves.

“I’m elbowing Rick and Mike is elbowing me and all of us are competing like hell with each other to take the shot,” Murphy said. “Hey, we were teammates and there were no problems in the locker room or after the game. But we all wanted to be the guy at the line because we all felt we were the best one to take and make the shot for the team and we were all comfortable.”

Compare that now to Dwight Howard, the first-year Rocket who trudges to the foul line these days like a guy who’s hoping for reprieve from the governor.

Barry (.8998) ranks third on the NBA all-time career free throw percentage list, Murphy (.8916) is seventh and Newlin (.8695) is 23rd.

Howard couldn’t see those numbers with a telescope. After going 5-for-9 from the line in a 123-117 overtime loss on Wednesday night, Howard is 46-for-96 on the season, a career low .497. The Rockets have lost three of their last four games with Howard connecting at just a .396 (19 of 38) free-throw clip.

“That’s unfortunate,” said the Hall of Famer Murphy, now a TV analyst in Houston. “First off, I’ve always been a big fan of Howard. I love his enthusiasm, his athleticism and his aggressiveness on the court. He’s a helluva player and the truth is we should be talking about how he’s out there busting his ass every night, gobbling up rebounds, anchoring the defense. There are a lot of nights when he’s a shot-blocking machine.

“But now this one negative aspect to his game is becoming the symbol of who he is. The truth is nobody will ever talk about how good you are if you’re gonna stand up there and go 5-for-16 at the foul line. He has to erase that.” (more…)

Nowitzki Passes West With Miller Next


VIDEO: Nowitzki passes West on all-time scoring list

DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki shot past “The Logo” on Tuesday night and is bearing down on Reggie Miller.

The Dallas Mavericks’ sure-fire Hall-of-Fame forward took over 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list from Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West. Nowitzki needed 15 points in the Mavs’ 105-95 win over the Washington Wizards. He got 19, surpassing West with the second of a pair of late third-quarter 3-pointers that also helped Dallas jump back out to an insurmountable double-digit lead.

“He was obviously a little before my time,” Nowitzki said of West. “But I love the history of the game, I watched plenty of games, watched him shoot. He’s really the first guy that had really a pure jump shot like that. He’s the man, he’s clutch. He’s the logo.”

All-time leading scorers, NBA history
Player GP PTS PPG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1,560 38,387 24.6
Karl Malone 1,476 36,928 25.0
Michael Jordan 1,072 32,292 30.1
Kobe Bryant 1,239 31,617 25.5
Wilt Chamberlain 1,045 31,419 30.1
Shaquille O’Neal 1,207 28,596 23.7
Moses Malone 1,329 27,409 20.6
Elvin Hayes 1,303 27,313 21.0
Hakeem Olajuwon 1,238 26,946 21.8
Oscar Robertson 1,040 26,710 25.7
Dominique Wilkins 1,074 26,668 24.8
John Havlicek 1,270 26,395 20.8
Alex English 1,193 25,613 21.5
Kevin Garnett 1,329 25,310 19.0
Reggie Miller 1,389 25,279 18.2
Dirk Nowitzki 1,116 25,197 22.6
Jerry West 932 25,192 27.0
Patrick Ewing 1,183 24,815 21.0
Allen Iverson 914 24,368 26.7
Paul Pierce 1,108 24,103 21.8
Ray Allen 1,234 23,881 19.4
Tim Duncan 1,186 23,865 20.1
Charles Barkley 1,073 23,757 22.1
Robert Parish 1,611 23,334 14.5
Adrian Dantley 955 23,177 24.3
Through Tuesday, Nov. 12

Nowitzki, in his 16th season, now has 25,197 career points. With West’s 25,192 points behind him, Miller’s 25,279 points is reachable likely within the next three to five games. Soon, only 14 players will have scored more points than the big German, and only a handful are safe from Nowitzki’s final charge over the next few seasons.

“It’s another great milestone, but for now, got to keep working and that’s really about it,” said a rather subdued Nowitzki, whose re-tooled Mavs improved to 5-3. “Like I always say, all these milestones are great once my career is over.”

Nowitzki’s jumper, whether a trailing, transition 3 from straightaway or a one-legged leaner from the elbow, is as pure as anyone’s who ever played the game, and no 7-footer comes close. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle did point out one significant difference between the 25,000-plus points West racked up in just 932 games compared to Nowitzki’s total through 1,116 career games.

“Jerry West never shot a 3,” Carlisle said. “If there had been a 3-point line back then, this milestone would have come later — he would need more points. It’s a monumental achievement to pass a player like that. He’s going to pass more big names in the weeks and months to come.”

Miller, a player Carlisle coached near the end of his career in Indiana, certainly took advantage of the 3-ball. So has Kobe Bryant, one of only three active players in the top 16 on the all-time scoring list. Bryant, who has yet to play this season as he recovers from an Achilles tear, is No. 4 with 31,617 career points, just one of five players to reach 30,000 points. Bryant needs 676 points to supplant Michael Jordan at No. 3. Kevin Garnett, now with the Brooklyn Nets, is the other active player at No. 14 with 25,310 points.

Nowitzki is on pace to become the all-time leading scorer among international players. Houston Rockets Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, a native of Nigeria, leads that group. The Dream sits No. 9 all-time with 26,946 points. Nowitzki can catch him this season if he averages 21.3 points over the next 74 games.

He’s currently averaging 18.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Nowitzki is in the final year of his contract, but has said he plans to play another two or three seasons, and his intention is to do so with the Mavs.

Seemingly the only thing that can keep Nowitzki, 35, from finishing in the top eight, at least, on the all-time scoring list is health. He’s been extremely durable throughout his career, but has experienced right knee troubles the past few seasons, needing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee prior to last season.

It kept him out of 29 games and he finished the season with his lowest scoring average, 17.3 ppg, since his second season in the league. He snapped a streak of 11 consecutive All-Star Game appearances and Dallas ended a 12-year run of postseason play.

Speaking of health, Tuesday’s game came with a bit of a mysterious twist. Nowitzki played for the first time this season with a sleeve over a previously — as far as anybody knew — problem-free left knee. After the game he was coy about why he wore the sleeve when questioned.

“I’ll be all right. Yeah, I’ll be all right,” Nowitzki said. “We just passed six games in nine days, obviously, and had four in five before this. So you know, it is what it is.”

When asked if the knee was just sore from the arduous schedule, Nowitzki mumbled again that he’ll be all right and quickly glanced in the other direction toward another questioner.

He’ll have a couple days off to get some rest and reflect on all those points since he came into the league as a floppy-headed 20-year-old rookie. The Mavs don’t play again until they hit the road Friday night to face old pal LeBron James and the two-time champion Miami Heat.


VIDEO: Nowitzki talks about passing West, Mavs’ victory

Fit Howard Makes For Healthy Start


VIDEO: Dwight Howard has a career night in his Houston debut

x

HOUSTON — Dwight Howard cleared the rebound off the defensive board, turned quickly and fired a perfect pass to a streaking James Harden that produced a layup that was prettier for its simplicity than any picture hanging in a museum.

This is how it starts.

Never mind that it took until the middle of the fourth quarter in a less-than-stellar team effort against the overmatched Bobcats.

All that mattered was that Howard was finally playing a game for the Rockets that counted in the standings, and for the first time after two tumultuous and dissatisfying seasons, things were different.

Looking dominant.

Having fun.

This was the way that Daryl Morey always hoped and wished it would be over all those months and years when he was trading players and draft picks and office furniture in an attempt to get the kind of super-nova stars in his lineup that would make the Rockets relevant again.

“I was nervous,” admitted the general manager.

It’s one thing to lie awake at night staring at a ceiling filled with fast-breaking fantasies and quite another to roll reality out onto the floor and expect it to work.

It did, if only in fits and start, and based on the overwhelming raw numbers of Howard’s work on the glass and around the basket.

He made eight of 14 shots from the field, blocked two shots and gobbled up 26 hungry rebounds, which equaled his career high.

“I really was trying to get 30,” Howard said. “I wanted to get 30 rebounds. I was upset that I didn’t do it, but I’ll try next time.”

More than numerical goals, it’s the fact that he can try without worrying about the effects of a surgically repaired back or a bad shoulder that make all the things he might do the next time and next time and next time a possibility again.

While he was often maligned a year ago in Los Angeles for an attitude that was less than healthy, beneath it all what was really ailing was Howard’s body. There were times last season with the Lakers when he would see the basketball bounce off the rim and be helpless to go and get it.

“Oh yeah, my mind was at the ball, but my body was still on the other side,” Howard said. “I couldn’t do it. I’m a lot healthier than I was last season and that comes from all the work I put in this summer to get my body back right. My teammates need me to rebound and be a dominant force on both ends. I’m healthier and I’m able and willing to do it.”

When asked to rate his health on a scale of 1-10, he called this an 8.

Maybe it would never have worked on the Lakers with Howard and Kobe Bryant constantly clashing their styles and their egos. But the fact that a quick, explosive, 6-foot-11 jumping jack was never fully fit to play certainly played into the disappointment.

“He’s the elite basket protector in the league when he’s healthy,” said Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, who was an assistant on the staff when Howard was in Orlando and was Mike D’Antoni’s No. 1 aide last year in L.A. “I’ve gone through stretches of two-three weeks when we were in Orlando where he just dominated the game.

“Watching him on film and talking to him, I just think he feels a lot healthier. He’s moving a lot better and he’s playing with great energy. He’s such a physical force and he’s also a very smart player that when he’s right — and right now it looks like he is — he can impact every play at both ends of the floor.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt that in the Rockets’ twin towers lineup with rim protector and rebound collector Omer Asik at center Howard is free to be as relentless and aggressive as he would like. But mostly it doesn’t hurt that Howard just doesn’t hurt.

The legend of the summertime workouts with Houston legend and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon might grow into bigger difference-making myths than Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox if the Rockets become everything they hope to be by going deep into the playoffs, maybe even all the way to June.

“He never last year moved like he’s moving now,” Clifford said. “He’s looking like a different guy. With all the frustrations that everybody had to deal with there last year…he’s got pride and he had played at a level in Orlando that he could physically never get to last year (in L.A.). I think that’s where it all started.

“People can say whatever they want about our team last year, but those guys fought hard. (Howard) could have sat out. We went 28-12 the last 40 games with our backs to the wall, playing every night to get to the playoffs. Those guys did a great job and he was right in the middle of it. He didn’t give in. Again, until Kobe got hurt, I think we were the team people were saying, ‘Man, I’m not sure I want to match up with them’ when we were seventh or eighth. Because we were playing well at that point.”

But it ended with Bryant watching from the locker room, having earlier torn his Achilles’ tendon and with Howard getting tossed out of the final game of a desultory first-round playoff sweep by the Spurs. Then after the celebrated recruiting pitch by a handful of teams, it ended with Howard choosing this new beginning in Houston, where a fan base that had suffered through nearly two decades of mediocrity was waiting.

“I was ready to go,” Howard said. “That was it. But I didn’t have any butterflies. I’ve been in the league for a while now, so to me it’s just one of 82, but it’s very important that we get off to a good start.

“I didn’t try to think that way, because I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on myself. I just want to go out there and play, have fun and get back to being who I am as a player. I think when you focus too much on…what everybody else is saying, that’s when don’t play like you want to play. To me, I just want to be free to play, rebound, block shots, score in the post and make my teammates better. And have fun doing it. These guys, they look up to me, and me and James are going to lead this team in the right direction.”

This is how it starts.

Jordan’s First Retirement, 20 Years Ago, Hit NBA Hardest

a

It was 20 years ago today, Michael Jordan said he wouldn’t play…

Hmm, nothing very lyrical about that. More like Sgt. Peppers Broken Hearts Club Band.

As anniversaries go, this one may have lost some oomph after two decades because, sooner rather than later, it lost its exclusivity. Jordan, the consensus pick as the greatest NBA player of all time, eventually would make that same statement again, and then again. But when he dropped the news on the sports world and the American culture on Oct. 6, 1993, that he was retiring from the Chicago Bulls at age 30, no more pebble-grained worlds to conquer, as far as any of us knew, he meant it.

That was it. One and done.

“I didn’t understand it,” Hakeem Olajuwon said a few days ago, looking back across time. Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets’ Hall of Fame center, and Jordan were born 27 days apart. They famously entered the NBA in the same 1984 draft. When Jordan stepped away, it was Olajuwon’s Rockets that stepped up to win consecutive championships. As the 1993-94 season approached, the two stars were in their primes, nine seasons into their treks to Springfield, Mass.

“It was more of a drastic decision,” Olajuwon said, “where I couldn’t imagine that he was comfortable to walk away for life. So I was surprised.”

Jason Kidd was a 20-year-old sophomore at Cal, one more college basketball season away from being drafted into the suddenly Michael Jordan-less league.

“As a guy you looked up to and wanted to be like, here he retires,” said Kidd, also Hall-bound and now the Brooklyn Nets’ rookie head coach. “Now you’re saying ‘The best has left the game,’ and you’ll never get to guard him or play with him. That was disappointing.”

Jordan’s decision to quit the NBA after capturing three consecutive championships with the Bulls from 1991 to 1993, earning three MVP awards and three Finals MVP trophies and winning seven scoring titles was harder to absorb and believe than it was, upon reflection, to understand. He had lived life, for most of his pro career anyway, at a fever pitch, with nonstop basketball commitments, the pressures and obligations of being the game’s most dominant player, the Olympics and other offseason endeavors, and the time and commercial demands generated by his unprecedented rise as a marketing icon and corporate pitchman.

Added to that, in barely a month after the Bulls’ ’93 title, was the loss of his father James Jordan, murdered in a roadside robbery. Then there was the ongoing speculation about Jordan’s golf and casino-style gambling habits, and his alleged association with unsavory characters who might have dragged down not just the player’s integrity but the league’s.

(more…)

Howard Debut Passes Dream Test

a

a
HOUSTON
– After a warm, if not thunderous, welcome from his thousands of new fans in Texas, Dwight Howard received the positive feedback he wanted from his new teacher.

“He ran the floor, he established himself as a big man in the post and he made plays,” said Hakeem Olajuwon from his mid-court seat on the front row at the Toyota Center Saturday night. “This was just the first game, an exhibition game, but it was a good start.”

The Hall of Famer, who led Houston to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, has been tutoring Howard on low post moves in special sessions for the past several summers and the relationship has intensified since Olajuwon re-joined his former team as a part-time assistant coach working with the big men.

Howard scored 19 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dealt three assists and blocked one shot while playing 27 minutes in his Rockets debut, a 116-115 loss to the Pelicans. He shot 6-for-11 from field and 7-for-11 from the foul line.

“I’m especially glad that Dwight got to play as many minutes as he did tonight,” Olajuwon said. “It will do him good to build up his legs and his endurance was soon as possible, so that when the regular season begins he will be ready to dominate.

“What I saw from him tonight were many of the things that we have seen from Dwight earlier in his career. He was athletic. He was alive. But most of all, I think he looked like he is having a good time out there. He is happy and I can tell you from personal experience that means a lot. You need to know that your coach believes in you, that your teammates truly believe in you and that the city is behind you. I think after a couple of difficult seasons, Dwight has that again here in Houston.”

A crowd that was decidedly less than the full house that will be on hand for the Rockets’ Oct. 30 season opener versus Charlotte, was excited even when he lost the opening tip to the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis and moaned when Howard stepped to the free throw line for the first time and missed the first of a pair of free throws with 8:37 left in the first quarter. He made the second shot.

Howard’s first bucket in a Rockets uniform was a five-foot turnaround jumper that came off a feed from Jeremy Lin with 6:14 to go in the opening quarter. On the very next possession, Lin got the ball right back into Howard a slam dunk.

Midway through the third quarter, Howard received the ball paint and used his quickness to spin by Jason Smith and score on on a nifty reverse layup.

“Good move! Good move!” shouted Olajuwon from his seat on the front row. “Don’t hesitate when you see an opening. Take it.”

Howard went to the bench and was done for the night, drawing a defensive three-second call with 56.6 left in the third quarter.

Olajuwon shrugged off the criticism of his pupil from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who said Howard did not have a “go-to move.”

“Dwight has the fundamentals. He has the basics,” Olajuwon said. “What I am trying to help him with is to show him where there are certain things and certain spots in the defenses that he can take advantage of.

“What I did see tonight was him making his presence felt at the defensive end. He had it in mind at times that he wanted to dominate. That’s the way a big man has to think all the time.

“What I also saw were times when he passed the ball back out to a guard or someone else when he should have turned and taken the shot himself.

“I know he wants to fit in with his new teammates. I know this team has played a style where they ran and shot a lot from the outside. But the Rockets have a big man now. A real big man. An All-Star. The kind of big man who can dominate and take them places.

The significance of Howard entering his 10th NBA season is not lost on Olajuwon, who led the Rockets to a championship in his 10th year in the league.

“I can sit here and say that the team and Dwight can really think that way,” Olajuwon said. “It’s early. This is just a start.”

How Is A Championship Team Built?

The Miami Heat were able to acquire most of their roster through free agency.

The 2013 NBA Champion Miami Heat acquired most of their roster through free agency.

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

There’s been much discussion recently about the proper way for an NBA franchise to rebuild. Many of these discussions have been about teams who appear to purposefully build an inferior roster in order to obtain a high Draft pick. This concept, also known as “tanking,” inspired an entire series by the ESPN TrueHoop Network staff and an excellent rebuttal from Tom Ziller at SB Nation.

The key question raised by all of these articles: What IS the optimal way for an NBA franchise to construct a championship team?

The best way to answer this question is to look at how past champions were constructed.

Here’s a graph that breaks down the roster construction of the past 20 NBA champions (click to enlarge):

 Championship construction

And here’s how the top three players on each team were acquired:

championship construction 2

(EDITOR’S NOTE ON ABOVE TRANSACTIONS: Maxwell was sold to the Houston Rockets by the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 20, 1990; James technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Cavs two future first-round, two future second-round picks, a trade exception and an option to swap first-round picks with Miami in 2012 — which the Cavs passed on. Bosh technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Raptors two first-round picks in the 2011 Draft and a trade exception.)

A few things of note:

  • The 2004 Pistons were incredible. None of their top three players was drafted by the team; Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur were the only players drafted at all by the Pistons.
  • The Pistons and the 2011 Mavericks were the only championship teams over the past 20 years who acquired the majority of their players through trades.
  • The importance of the Draft is clear. Outside of those pesky Pistons, each championship team drafted either their best or second-best player. I labeled both Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant as drafted by their current teams even though they were drafted by other teams (Milwaukee and Charlotte, respectively) and traded on Draft night or, in Kobe’s case, shortly thereafter.
  • The Heat started a new trend of how to build a champion with the majority of their players being acquired through free agency. This has a lot to do with the roster purge they experienced during the summer of 2010 when they cleared significant roster space to re-sign Dwyane Wade and sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Overall, the general construction of these squads seems to be quite basic. Draft a superstar, trade for players who fit well with said superstar, sign supporting role players and, boom … championship. Sounds easy enough.

But it’s obviously not that easy, considering only eight franchises have been able to crack the code over the last twenty seasons.

It’s clear, though, that the first and most important step in building a championship roster is acquiring a superstar. Unfortunately, superstars are rare. So for most franchises that are not located in a hugely desirable free-agent destination, or can’t swing a blockbuster trade, the only way to acquire one is through the Draft.

Where Have All The Shot-Blockers Gone?

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The demise of the true center is typically lamented by the dearth of low-post skill on offense, but we can’t ignore its effects at the other end, too.

You know what they say about every action: there is an equal and opposite reaction. Among other things, the evolution of the face-up, jump-shooting “big”, and the age of the drive-and-kick 3-pointer have taken a toll on the art of shot-blocking. With seemingly fewer one-on-one, low-post defensive opportunities there is an equally diminishing chance to deliver an opposite reaction.

There are tremendous shot blockers in the league. Thunder power forward/center Serge Ibaka will attempt to become the first player to lead the league in shot blocking three consecutive seasons and average at least 3.0 bpg in three straight seasons since Marcus Camby did it from 2006-08. Ibaka’s 3.65 bpg in 2011-12 was the highest since Alonzo Mourning‘s 3.7 in 1999-2000.

Bucks rim protector Larry Sanders could cross the 3.0 barrier. Indiana’s young, old-school center Roy Hibbert made a significant jump last season to 2.61 bpg, fourth in the league, from 1.97. A healthy and happy Dwight Howard could surge to 3.0 for the first time in his career.

Still, today’s drooping block numbers are eye-popping when compared to prior decades. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season. That season, five players averaged at least 3.0 bpg, led by Elmore Smith (4.8 bpg), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5), Bob McAdoo (3.3), Bob Lanier (3.0) and Elvin Hayes (3.0). In the seven officially recorded seasons in the 1970s, two players averaged at least 3.0 bpg in a season five times.

In the ’80s, it was seven of 10 seasons, and at least three players averaged at least 3.0 bpg four times. Utah’s 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton still holds the single-season record of 5.56 bpg in 1984-85. The ’90s — with shot-swatters such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Bradley, Theo Ratliff, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning — marked the salad days of shot-blocking.

Every season during the physical, hold-and-grab ’90s saw at least two players average at least 3.0 bpg. Eight times at least three players recorded 3.0 bpg or more. Four times the season leader topped 4.0 bpg, and two more times the leader finished at 3.9 bpg.

Those numbers haven’t been sniffed. Since the close of the ’90s, only four times in the last 13 seasons have at least two players finished a season averaging at least 3.0 bpg  (and largely credit Ben Wallace and Ratliff early in the 2000s for that). It hasn’t happened since 2005-06 when Camby (3.29) and long-armed small forward Andrei Kirilenko (3.19) finished one and two, respectively.

The lowest league-leading shot-block averages have all come since the turn of the century, and two of the three lowest have been posted in the past five seasons. Andrew Bogut‘s 2.58 bpg in 2010-11 is the lowest season leader of all-time. Howard’s 2.78 bpg the season before is the second-lowest and his 2.92 bpg to lead the league in 2008-09 is better than only the 2.8 bpg put up in 2000-01 by Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Bradley.

Could 2013-14 be the season we see one, two or even more players join Ibaka in 3.0 territory? Sanders is trending that way and Hibbert and Howard are candidates, but it’s hard to envision Tim Duncan surpassing last season’s career-high of 2.65 bpg.

Maybe 3.0 is a stretch for most. Only five players averaged between 2.45 bpg and Ibaka’s 3.03 last season.

Here are my five players that could vault into this season’s top-5 (but may not necessarily get to 3.0):

1. Derrick Favors, Jazz: The 6-foot-10 power forward is going to see his minutes jump as he moves into the starting lineup with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone. Favors averaged 1.7 bpg in 23.2 mpg off the bench last season. He’ll go up against more elite front-line players this season, but it’s not a reach to suggest he could average 2.5 bpg.

2. JaVale McGee, Nuggets: With Washington in 2010-11, he finished second in the league at 2.44 bpg, but his minutes dropped dramatically the past two seasons in Denver under George Karl. The 7-footer should be in for quite a change with Brian Shaw taking over for Karl and ownership wanting to see McGee earn his money on the floor. More minutes are in his future. Are more blocks?

3. Brook Lopez, Nets: Last season was the first of his young career to average more than 2.0 bpg (2.1) and that number could be on the rise this season playing next to Kevin Garnett. If KG doesn’t teach Lopez a thing or two about defending the post, he might just frighten the 7-footer into protecting the rim at all costs.

4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Potential is running thin for this 6-foot-11 center from Texas A&M. Entering his sixth season, it’s time to mature and play big in the middle for a team that will need it to contend for the West crown. He took a step back last season and under Doc Rivers he’ll need to prove he’s worthy of more minutes. He can do that by swatting basketballs.

5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans: The youngster just looks like a shot-blocker with those long arms and all. He’ll head into his second season healthy, accustomed to the NBA game, smarter and stronger. He’s got great natural instinct, athleticism and a desire to dominate defensively. During his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 4.7 bpg. The 20-year-old blocked 112 shots in 64 games as a rookie. Expect more.