Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah Thomas’

Numbers reveal four strong MIP candidates

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Kia Most Improved Player award is thought of as the most nebulous of the six major end-of-season awards and typically gets the widest range of votes. Last season, though Paul George finished with a vote total of more than twice that of any other player, 15 different players received at least one first-place vote and another 18 received at least one vote for second or third place.

But the award also lends itself to simple statistical analysis. It should be fairly simple to determine whose numbers have improved most from season to season.

If you want to get real simple, we can just compare the raw numbers, using the efficiency statistic.

Biggest increase, total efficiency

Player Season 2012-13 2013-14 Diff.
Kevin Love 6 372 2,060 1,688
Terrence Jones 2 147 1,048 901
Miles Plumlee 2 20 894 874
Andre Drummond 2 826 1,561 735
Andrew Bogut 9 418 1,103 685
Khris Middleton 2 167 836 669
Timofey Mozgov 4 174 837 663
Gerald Green 7 319 923 604
John Wall 4 949 1,511 562
James Anderson 4 180 740 560
DeAndre Jordan 6 1,079 1,638 559
Anthony Davis 2 1,167 1,705 538
Jordan Hill 5 275 810 535
Jeremy Lamb 2 48 579 531
Dirk Nowitzki 16 1,005 1,531 526
Jared Sullinger 2 454 975 521
Tony Wroten 2 84 601 517
Trevor Ariza 10 637 1,151 514
Reggie Jackson 3 465 955 490
Richard Jefferson 13 200 678 478

Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

At this point, the big question has to be asked: Should second-year players be considered for the Most Improved Player award? If not, we can eliminate several guys on the list above, though both Terrence Jones and Miles Plumlee – two starters on Western Conference playoff teams — feel like strong candidates. Only two of the top 10 in last year’s voting — Nikola Vucevic (4th) and Chandler Parsons (10th) — were second-year players.

There are also a handful of veterans on the list who missed large chunks of last season with injuries, though Kevin Love and Trevor Ariza are having the best seasons of their careers.

Timofey Mozgov and Gerald Green are interesting candidates, but were both out of their team’s rotations last season, so their improved raw numbers may also be about opportunity.

But Mozgov’s name comes up when we look at PIE improvement. PIE takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. So it adjusts for pace and there’s a team-success element to it, because if your opponent doesn’t score as many points or grab as many rebounds your individual number will be higher.

Biggest increase, PIE

2012-13 2013-14
Player Season MIN PIE MIN PIE Diff.
James Johnson 5 879 5.3% 836 11.5% 6.2%
DeMarcus Cousins 4 2,289 13.2% 1,978 18.3% 5.1%
Kevin Love 6 618 14.4% 2,438 19.4% 5.0%
Markieff Morris 3 1,837 7.5% 1,864 12.3% 4.8%
Lance Stephenson 4 2,278 8.8% 2,487 13.0% 4.2%
Kris Humphries 10 1,191 9.2% 1,272 13.3% 4.1%
Bismack Biyombo 3 2,186 6.3% 957 10.1% 3.8%
Kendall Marshall 2 702 5.8% 1,270 9.6% 3.8%
Draymond Green 2 1,061 5.1% 1,481 8.9% 3.8%
Timofey Mozgov 4 366 6.9% 1,479 10.5% 3.6%
Xavier Henry 4 625 3.9% 895 7.5% 3.6%
Patty Mills 5 656 8.2% 1,306 11.7% 3.4%
Marco Belinelli 7 1,882 7.0% 1,749 10.3% 3.3%
Avery Bradley 4 1,435 4.9% 1,602 8.1% 3.3%
Andrew Bogut 9 786 9.2% 1,661 12.5% 3.3%
Isaiah Thomas 3 2,121 10.6% 2,450 13.8% 3.2%
Anthony Davis 2 1,846 13.5% 2,248 16.6% 3.0%
Marcus Morris 3 1,524 6.7% 1,601 9.7% 3.0%
Brandon Knight 3 2,366 8.2% 2,051 11.2% 3.0%
Alec Burks 3 1,137 7.4% 1,909 10.4% 3.0%

Minimum 300 minutes in 2012-13 and 800 minutes in 2013-14

Love, Mozgov and Andrew Bogut are the only players on both lists. But Bogut had better seasons in Milwaukee and Love’s increase is just 1.0 percent over his third season in the league. Mozgov has taken a decent jump, but still isn’t a real impact player in the league.

Based on the above lists and deeper dives into the numbers, there are four non-second-year candidates that stand out.

Marco Belinelli, Spurs

Choosing between the Spurs’ two back-up guards is tough, because Patty Mills‘ play has been eye-opening. But Belinelli has had a bigger role on the league’s best team.

Belinelli’s points per game have increased from 9.6 season last season (with Chicago) only to 11.4 this year. And he averaged more than that (11.8) two seasons ago with New Orleans. But he’s having, by far, the best shooting and rebounding seasons of his career.

Among 168 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (51.9 percent last season, 70.2 percent this season) ranks second in improvement, behind only Love.

Among 139 players who have attempted at least 100 mid-range shots each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.9 percent, 44.0 percent) ranks sixth in improvement.

And among 126 players who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.7 percent, 43.7 percent) ranks fifth in improvement.

No other player is in the top 25 of all three lists, and only one (Markieff Morris) is in the top 10 of more than one. It certainly helps (quite a bit, one could argue) that Belinelli has gone from a bottom-10 offensive team last season to a top-10 offensive team this year. But he also ranks 10th in improved rebounding percentage among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

Boogie has seen a jump in both usage (USG%) and scoring efficiency (TS%). Though he’s still not a great shooter (his 49.3 effective field-goal percentage is below the league average), he has gone to the line a lot more than he ever has. He has also rebounded at a career-high rate.

Defensively, he’s not exactly Roy Hibbert or Kevin Garnett, and transition defense is a major problem. But the Kings have been almost six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Cousins on the floor. He’s a plus-62 for a team that’s 25-46.

Cousins’ teammate Isaiah Thomas seems like another good candidate and is 16th on the most-improved PIE list above. But his scoring effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage have barely budged (his 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage have gone down), and his numbers jump is mostly about an increased usage rate and a small jump in assist rate.

Markieff Morris, Suns

If you could vote for the Morris twins as one entity, that would be the clear favorite. You can’t, but Markieff (No. 11 in your programs) should be on the short list.

He’s been a much more efficient player this season, even though his usage rate has jumped quite a bit. And the Suns, who are an improved defensive team, have been better on that end of the floor with Markieff in the game.

As referenced above, he’s the ninth most improved mid-range shooter in the league and also ninth most improved in the restricted area. He’s played about the same number of minutes as he did last season and he’s gone to the line more than twice as many times.

With both Morris twins, Plumlee, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic all worthy of some consideration for Most Improved, it’s obvious that Jeff Hornacek should be in the running for Coach of the Year.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers

Like Cousins and Morris, Stephenson has seen a big jump in both usage rate and efficiency. But he’s also the most improved rebounder among 203 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons, with his rebounding percentage jumping from 7.5 percent to 11.4 percent (best among guards).

Stephenson still has some improving to do. He’s a below-average shooter from outside the paint and his turnover rate has jumped as he’s been asked to handle the ball more. But overall, he’s taken a step forward this season.

Morning Shootaround — March 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Challenges ahead for PJax in New York | Report: Kobe wants D’Antoni out | Griffin, O’Neal exchange words after game | Kings’ Thomas opens up on journey, season

No. 1: Knicks now Jackson’s situation to fix — As our NBA TV’s own Greg Anthony reported last night, Phil Jackson is headed to New York as the team’s new President of Basketball Operations. That’s a fancy title, but it basically means he’s in charge of fixing what ails the Knicks and setting up their future for more long-term success than they’ve enjoyed over the last 10 or so seasons. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes that whether or not Jackson can be a success at building a team remains to be seen:

Jackson has been training internally for this moment for years, having viewed himself more and more as a front-office guy, especially after being passed over for a third stint as Lakers coach in favor of Mike D’Antoni. If the Kings had been sold to the Chris Hansen group and moved to Seattle as the new SuperSonics, there is a good chance Jackson would have become president of basketball operations or some similar gaudy title that meant general manager. He has been looking for this kind of opportunity.

In that way, strangely, he needed the Knicks more than the Knicks needed him. New York got the name, which is obviously something to them, but Jackson got the job. They could have gone a lot of other directions, albeit without the same star power to soothe the masses, while Jackson, at 68, didn’t have the same options among teams that had job openings in a city he would live.

Jackson is very smart and will show up with a plan, and maybe he conquers this just as he did coaching. That wouldn’t be the biggest shock. But all we know for now is that the Knicks hired someone to run basketball operations who has never worked in basketball operations and that they will be cheered for it in New York.

Jackson won’t be out grinding on the college scouting circuit and he won’t get into emotional wrestling matches with agents unhappy with a client’s playing time. Someone else will handle the day-to-day. But there will come times when Jackson will have to make a major roster decision that involves proper use of the salary cap in addition to basketball acumen.

He can’t shape the roster in his coaching vision either, because coach Phil Jackson would never want a ball-stopper like Carmelo Anthony yet the Knicks have made it clear the idea is to keep ‘Melo and surround him with veterans, not split with Anthony this summer in free agency. New York could miss the playoffs and still have people asking them about the possibility of championships within a couple years. The new general manager, by some title, arrives with expectations.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Phil Jackson’s move to the Knicks

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No. 2: Report: Kobe has ‘no interest’ in playing for D’Antoni — The Lakers and Kobe Bryant issued the final word yesterday — Bryant won’t be coming back for the rest of this season. While the news was another letdown for Lakers fans, it wasn’t exactly a shocker either as word of his official shutdown had been looming for days. Bryant, not surprisingly, remains as steadfast as ever that he’ll come back and perform at his high level. He said as much during his news conference yesterday in Los Angeles, where he also made a point to express his desire for L.A. to get back to a championship level as fast as possible. But could part of that plan include ousting coach Mike D’Antoni? Sean Devaney of The Sporting News has more on that potential move:

With a 22-42 record and little hope of further improvement, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni is merely coaching out the string this year in Los Angeles—and likely won’t be back next season.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported on Wednesday morning that he had heard D’Antoni would be out, and that the Lakers’ potential pursuit of free-agent Carmelo Anthony would be the reason. But multiple sources told Sporting News that the reason for D’Antoni’s potential dismissal is closer to home—star guard Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, sources said, has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season, and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-15 season.

The Lakers are expected to undergo a massive overhaul in the offseason, with enough cap space available to sign a max-level free agent—like Anthony. But Anthony played for D’Antoni with the Knicks and was never able to see eye-to-eye with the coach, who eventually agreed to walk away from the job in New York in March 2012.

Bryant has let it be known in recent weeks that he would like the Lakers to keep free-agent forward Pau Gasol this summer—a maneuver that can be read as a shot at D’Antoni, with whom Gasol has openly feuded.

L.A. is also in position to have one of the top picks in this year’s draft. With a returning group that includes a top-notch rookie, plus Bryant—Gasol and a free agent—the Lakers figure to get out of the Western Conference basement quickly, if they can stay healthy.

But the question remains: Who will be the coach?


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant speaks with the media about his season-ending injury

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No. 3: Griffin, O’Neal get into postgame war of words — If you missed last night’s Warriors-Clippers game from Staples Center last night, do yourself a favor and watch it today on League Pass. It had the environment, both on the court and in the crowd, of a playoff game and had plenty of physical play throughout. The excitement and emotion of that game may have spilled over once things were over as Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal and Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin got into a verbal altercation, writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Golden State Warriors forward Jermaine O’Neal confronted forward Blake Griffin in the hallway outside the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room at Staples Center after L.A.’s 111-98 win Wednesday night.

The two had a heated conversation that was quickly broken up by a Clippers official who led Griffin to the adjacent news conference room.

O’Neal, 35, had dressed and was waiting outside the Clippers’ locker room to talk to Griffin.

Griffin, who was walking to the news conference room to take questions from reporters, could be heard telling O’Neal to “leave that s— on the court” before the two were separated and briefly shook hands.

With 8:55 left in the fourth quarter, O’Neal got a technical foul as he walked toward the Clippers’ bench and continued talking to Griffin before O’Neal’s teammates and officials directed him back to the Warriors’ bench.

Griffin did not care to discuss his conversations with O’Neal when later taking questions.

“Nah,” he said. “That’s between me and him.”


VIDEO: The Clippers best the Warriors at Staples Center

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No. 4: Kings’ Thomas opens up about NBA journey – The Sacramento Kings, as has been the case the last few seasons, find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference pile and looking to another NBA Draft to try and build a winner. There is some talent on the current roster, though, starting with big man DeMarcus Cousins, swingman Rudy Gay and perhaps the most little-known star of the Kings, point guard Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive playmaker sat down with SBNation.com’s James Herbert to talk about his NBA path, dealing with losing in Sacramento and much more:

Everybody knows your dad was a Laker fan, but you were in Seattle. How did that work? Were you a Laker fan?

I was a little brainwashed. My dad’s from LA, so growing up in his house, I was a Laker fan. But I loved the Sonics, I loved Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. The Glove and the Reign Man, those were my two favorite players. But growing up, like I said, I was in a Laker household and got brainwashed. My favorite player is Kobe Bryant. I like the Lakers.

It sucks. I mean, it doesn’t suck I got drafted by the Kings, but that’s their biggest rival, so you gotta watch what you say about the Lakers around Sacramento.

Lots of guards in this league have trouble finishing at the rim. What is it that allows you to be able to finish so much better than a lot of guys who are 6 and 7 inches taller than you?

I think it’s just a skill. I don’t know what it is. I’ve always been short, so it’s not like I’m making adjustments. It’s just something I’ve learned to do since I was a little boy. I’m always going in there and finishing around the giants. It’s something that I gotta do as a small guard, though. Like, I gotta be able to finish around them and make adjustments and things like that. But it’s definitely a skill.

I mean, people ask me that a lot and I can’t really tell ‘em how I do it. I just go in there and try to make adjustments in the air and get away from the shot blockers.

One thing I definitely do, I go in there with no fear. If I do get my shot blocked, I feel like you’re supposed to do that and I’ma get back up and do it again.

I’ve never seen an interview with you where you haven’t been smiling and friendly, but you’ve had a lot of losing in your career. Is it harder than we think or is it easy for you to stay positive?

It’s hard. ‘Cause I’m not used to losing. And in my whole career in the NBA, I’ve lost. It’s tough ‘cause I’m a winner, I’ve come from winning, I’ve always been a winner.

But at the same time, when you go out there and give it your all each and every night, you got to go home and you can’t dwell on those moments. If you know that you gave it 110 percent, then that’s all you can give. And it’s a team sport, it’s not an individual sport like tennis or something where you can really win on your own. You can’t. Everybody has to be together.

We’re trying to turn this around and if we just keep working and become a more consistent team, I think we can get more wins and turn it around.


VIDEO: The Seattle area still holds a special heart for Isaiah Thomas

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the concept of “tanking” yesterday and Thunder GM Sam Presti, did, too … New Bobcats guard Gary Neal was benched for last night’s game in Washington over an “internal team matter” … Nuggets coach Brian Shaw, a former player for Phil Jackson, thinks Jackson’s move to N.Y. is a good thing … Don’t look now, but Amir Johnson might go down as one of the greatest Raptors ever … Kings forward Jason Thompson has gone from starter to reserve and is trying to deal with the demotion

ICYMI of the Night: So many great moments from so many games, but this morning, we’re riding with Mike Conley‘s buzzer-beating shot to sink the Pelicans and cap the Grizzlies’ big comeback win…


VIDEO: Mike Conley sinks the Pelicans with a clutch floater

Thomas Again Trying To Prove Himself


VIDEO: Thomas shines in Kings’ rare road win in Denver

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – This makes three seasons of being dismissed in the rotation or replaced as the starting point guard only to survive as the last man standing, so many shifts on the depth chart that Isaiah Thomas says he honestly cannot remember all those who showed up with the expectation of winning the job only to soon disappear.

He is defiant in all the right ways, refusing to play like the No. 60 pick in 2011, and a survivor, not merely making the league at 5 feet 9 but about to get big money as a restricted free agent in July. And paranoid. We can’t forget paranoid.

Thomas keeps proving people wrong, all right, except that it’s the Kings most of all. That would be interesting enough as the real truth while fans wonder why he doesn’t get enough respect around the league — hint: his own organization isn’t sold on him as a starter – except that now it comes with the defiance on full display.

There were doubts about how a scoring point guard would fit on a team that needed to get the ball to DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, and Thomas answered by averaging 6.7 assists against 2.9 turnovers in January and another 6.7 against 3.3 turnovers the first 10 games of February.

There was enough skepticism about whether he could be a full-time starter that the Kings installed Greivis Vasquez in the opening lineup after acquiring Vasquez in the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade. Thomas responded by posting 21.9 points, 7.1 assists, 3.0 turnovers, 37.8 minutes and 45 percent from the field in 38 games in that role, compared to 17.8 points, 4.9 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 27.7 minutes and 45.8 percent in 18 games in his previous life as an early candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. Vasquez got dealt again, to the Raptors as part of the Gay swap, and Thomas, with free agency approaching in July, got richer.

So when he is asked if he genuinely believes that the Kings look at him as the man for the permanent job and says, “Right now I do,” it is the perfect answer. Confidence countered with reality, the proper understating that his current role is built on soft sand. The franchise will want him back and expects to match any realistic sheet, but that’s very different from committing to him as the starter of the future. They will have cap space to acquire a front-line ball handler, by trade or free agency. They will likely draft in the neighborhood of Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State (no upgrade as a distributor but a very good defender at a time Sacramento needs to make that a priority) or Dante Exum of Australia.

Thomas thinks the Kings believe in him. Thomas also thinks the Kings could make another move to replace him before next season. That is some contradiction.

“It is,” Thomas said. “But at the same time, that’s how the business is. They might believe in you, then the next day they go out and get another guard, go out and get somebody else. That’s just how it is. I always say myself just to stay paranoid.”

Stay paranoid?

“Stay paranoid,” he repeated. “Stay on my toes and be ready for any battle, anything that happens. It’s three years. They brought in three different point guards, every year.”

Jimmer Fredette was supposed to start in 2011-12, before the final pick in the draft lapped the 10th pick into the ground.  Aaron Brooks signed before last season, and Thomas beat him out too. And the Kings traded for Vasquez before this season with the expectation Vasquez would run the point. Nope. Traded. That’s the list Thomas said he couldn’t remember.

The problem is that the latest run as a starter hasn’t provided a final answer to the Kings about whether he can run the offense well enough when the priority is getting the ball to Cousins, Gay and, likely one day, 2013 lottery pick Ben McLemore. Plus, he is part of the problem with the perimeter defense. The other part of the problem for his chances to keep the job is also a positive: Thomas is a very good scoring punch off the bench.

“Every offseason I go into the new year thinking, ‘OK, we had a losing season, so nobody’s job is secure but DeMarcus Cousins’ and now Rudy Gay’s,” Thomas said. “And I’m 5-9. So I understand. I understand. Five-nine, there’s not another 5-9 starting guard in this league. You haven’t seen one and you can probably name on your hand, on your five fingers, a starting point guard in the history of the NBA that’s been this short. I understand it. But at the same time, I’m just willing to work and willing to showcase my skills.”

Coach Michael Malone has talked to him about the delicate balance of staying aggressive as a scorer while running the offense with Cousins as the No. 1 scoring option and Gay as No. 2. Thomas gets all that and hopes he has made a convincing case to hold the spot this time. Maybe another threat will be brought in during the summer, though. That’s why he has to stay paranoid.

Film Study: Is There Any D In DeMarcus?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In voting for seven reserves for next month’s All-Star Game, Western Conference coaches have some very difficult decisions to make.

The most interesting dilemma is what to make of DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks … for a team that’s 15-26.

My man Jeff Caplan did not pick Cousins among his seven reserves. Neither did Charles Barkley, Grant Hill or Kenny Smith. Shaquille O’Neal did, but it should be noted that he’s a minority owner of the Kings.

The biggest reason the Kings are 11 games under .500 is their defense. Through Thursday, they rank 28th in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions. It’s the third straight season they’ve ranked in the bottom three.

The question is how responsible is Cousins for the poor defense and if that basically negates a lot of his offensive production. What good is scoring 31 points (like Cousins did against the league’s best defense last week) if you’re helping your opponent (a below-average offensive team) put up 116?

Cousins’ basic defensive numbers look great. Only *five players (who have played at least 20 games) average more steals plus blocks per game than Cousins’ 2.98, but steals and blocks don’t always equate to good defense.

* The five are Anthony Davis (4.53), DeAndre Jordan (3.50), Andre Drummond (3.21), Michael Carter-Williams (3.03) and Roy Hibbert (3.02). Three of them also play for below-average defense teams.

The Kings have been better defensively with Cousins on the floor (allowing 105.6 points per possessions) than they’ve been with him on the bench (107.6). But that mark of 105.6 would still put them in the bottom six of the league defensively.

With Cousins on the floor, the Kings rebound and force turnovers at above-average rates. But the best thing you can do as a defense is defend shots, and they haven’t done that very well.

Kings defense with Cousins on and off the floor

Cousins on/off OppeFG% Rk DREB% Rk OppTOV% Rk OppFTA Rate Rk
Cousins on 52.4% 76.1% 15.8% .294
Cousins off 51.4% 75.1% 13.4% .331
Overall 52.1% 30 75.7% 9 15.0% 21 .308 25

OppeFG% = Opp. (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Kings opponents have shot 66.4 percent in the restricted area with him on the floor, a mark well above the league average of 60.2 percent. According to SportVU, opponents have shot 53.7 at the rim when Cousins is there defending it, a mark that ranks 48th among 59 players who have defended at least five shots per game over 20 games.

Some of the discrepancy between the 66.4 percent and 53.7 percent can be attributed to transition defense, where Cousins is more than a little lacking. In that game in Indiana in which Cousins scored 31 points, the Pacers shot 18-for-24 in the restricted area, 12-for-14 with Cousins on the floor, and had 25 fast-break points.

Here are a couple of examples where Cousins didn’t necessarily have a chance to stop the break, but could made a much better effort than he did…


VIDEO: Film Study of Cousins’ transition defense

In the halfcourt, Synergy Sports ranks Cousins as a “good” pick-and-roll defender. Of late, he’ been sagging in the paint when his man sets a high screen. Here’s Greg Stiemsma setting a screen on Isaiah Thomas with Cousins nowhere in the vicinity, giving Brian Roberts plenty of open space to work with.

20140124_cousins_sag

This is basically the same strategy that the Pacers employ with Defensive Player of the Year favorite Roy Hibbert, though Hibbert puts a lot more effort into using his length to keep the ball-handler out of the paint while also staying attached to his man. Cousins obviously isn’t on Hibbert’s level in regard to protecting the rim without fouling.

But the sagging strategy can force your opponent into mid-range shots, which is a good thing. With Cousins on the floor, Kings opponents have shot more from mid-range, but have also shot better from there.

One issue is that the Kings’ guards don’t stay attached to their man nearly as well as the Pacers’ guards do. Thomas is having a terrific season offensively, but he’s a little (pizza) guy who can get smushed on screens. Combine that with Cousins’ tendency to stay out of the picture, and opponents are going to have success if they have a guard who can shoot off the dribble.


VIDEO: Film Study on Cousins’ pick-and-roll defense

Against Kevin Durant last week, there was more of an effort to get up on high screens, but overall, Cousins does a lot of standing up straight on defense. He does have terrific hands though, and that can partially make up for his inconsistent effort and lack of fundamentals…


VIDEO: Cousins shows his swiping skills

And if you engage him defensively, Cousins has the ability to be a strong defender. On this play in Oklahoma City, Reggie Jackson attacks Cousins, who stays with him and contests his step-back jumper. In the second video above, we saw him strip Glen Davis in the post, and Synergy ranks him as an “excellent” post defender. Again, if he’s engaged, he has the size to block your path and the quickness to react to your counter moves.

The skills are there. The commitment is not. The Kings have worse defenders on their team, but none of them were signed to a max extension last summer.

If Cousins isn’t a plus on both ends of the floor, is he really a max player? If his team ranks 28th in defensive efficiency, is he really one of the best centers in the league?

Is DeMarcus Cousins an All-Star? We’ll find out next Thursday.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players only meeting works for Kings | Conley at crunch time in Memphis | Teletovic pokes LeBron | Blazers not one of the Bynum 8

No. 1: Kings players-only meeting works wonders – Three straight wins in most places isn’t worth going crazy over, not during the marathon that is an 82-game NBA season. In Sacramento, however, it’s definitely going to raise eyebrows. A players-only meeting has worked wonders for the Kings, who routed Cleveland Sunday to polish off their season-best win streak. Is this potentially a turning point for a Kings team that has dealt with adversity and distractions for months now? Time will tell. But as Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee notes, an epic beatdown of the Cavaliers is a good place to start:

The victory margin equaled a 44-point win over Denver on Dec. 12, 1992, and trailed only a 56-point win over Philadelphia on Jan. 2, 1993 and a 58-point victory over Dallas on Dec. 29, 1992.

The Kings led by 46 points, their biggest advantage of the season, and tallied season highs in points, 3-pointers (15) and blocked shots (eight).

Defensively, the Kings (13-22) held Cleveland to 11 points in the third quarter and 30 points in the second half, both season lows by a Sacramento opponent. The 80 points were also a season low, bettering the 83 the Kings gave up against Orlando on Friday.

In the third quarter, the Cavaliers (13-24) made only four shots and shot 20 percent, both season lows for a Kings opponent.

“This young team is growing and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Rudy Gay said. “We can become a really good team. It takes hard work and we’re working hard, and coach has been great. As long as we keep going on that same path, we should be a good team.”

The defensive numbers are what pleased coach Michael Malone. After allowing 32 points in the first quarter, the Kings began to defend better, leading to the dominant second half.

“Consistency is a word we’ve used a lot,” Malone said. “It’s something we haven’t shown we can (accomplish) most of the season, but in our last three games I think the defense has been consistent, the communication has been consistent, the effort’s been there. We had breakdowns without a doubt, but our breakdowns are happening less often at the moment, and that’s a step in the right direction.”



VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas wins his duel with Kyrie Irving and his Kings get the win

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No. 2: Conley is the man at crunch time for Grizzlies – Whether you realize it or not, Mike Conley has become a stabilizing force for the a Memphis Grizzlies team that sorely needed one. Even with the likes of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen on the roster, the young point guard emerged from a humbling start to his career to evolve into the sort of floor leader that pushes the pile the way he did against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday night.  Conley is on a tear right now that suggests he might be ready for even bigger and better things, writes Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal:

Conley continued arguably the most productive week of his NBA career in leading the Griz with 21 points, 13 assists and four steals. He posted 30 or more points in each of the two previous games.

The Griz blew a 13-point lead with Conley on the bench. The Hawks began connecting on 3-pointers and used a 16-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to wrestle away the momentum and take an 80-77 lead.

The game was tied at 77 when Conley returned to replace rookie reserve Nick Calathes with 10:38 left. About 20 seconds later, Conley whipped a pass to James Johnson out of a pick-and-roll and Johnson finished the play with an emphatic slam dunk. The basket was the start of a 16-4 run that allowed the Griz to regain the lead for good.

Conley set up Courtney Lee and Mike Miller for 3-pointers, Zach Randolph for a point-blank shot, and created his own scoring opportunities by zipping past defenders and into the paint.

“Once (the Hawks) started making a little bit of a run, from the bench, I noticed that we weren’t getting to the paint,” said Conley, who had eight points and six and six assists in the final period. “We weren’t getting to the rim, to the free throw line or making plays at the rim. It shows our aggressiveness when we are going in-and-out of the paint. We got just little bit too lax in that stage of the game. I just wanted to come in and act on that.”

Conley is averaging 27.3 points in his last three games, which have resulted in an overtime loss to San Antonio and wins over Phoenix and Atlanta.

“He has really taken responsibility, not for running the team but really as a leader for the team and defining whether we are successful or not,” [Grizzlies coach Dave] Joerger said. “He has taken the steps to say, ‘I’m going to be up front, and not pushing from within. I’m not going to be facilitating. I’m going to be out front and be a leader and those who follow will follow and those who don’t will get left behind.’ He is so much more assertive in his approach and our guys feed off of that.”

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No. 3: Teletovic pokes the LeBron bearIn the event that the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets meet in the postseason (yes, still months away but work with us here), Mirza Teletovic might want to be careful with his poking of LeBron James. He’s still having a little fun at LeBron’s expense in the aftermath of their dust-up during the Nets win over the Heat last weeek in that TNT showdown. His good hard foul on LeBron, when he went around the neck to prevent an uninterrupted layup attempt, prompted plenty of bickering and back and forth about not only the foul and LeBron’s immediate reaction. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald went so far as to suggest that LeBron’s long-term response will have an impact in the playoffs:

Teletovic went high around James’ neck, yes, but it appeared on replay that Teletovic was only trying to prevent James from completing a three-point play. Teletovic didn’t grab James, but James took exception and lunged at Teletovic following the play. Michael Beasley and others restrained James while Nets players rushed in to hold back Teletovic, who reacted to the sequence by flashing a smile.

“Not a basketball play” was James’ constant complaint during the 2013 playoffs, especially during the series against the Chicago Bulls. Bulls center Nazr Mohammed was ejected during Game 3 for shoving James to the ground during a fast break.

For years, the postseason scouting report on James has called for opponents to rough up the MVP in the hopes of knocking him off his game.

Although hard fouls are nothing new for James, Teletovic defended himself after the game and then had a little fun with the incident on Twitter.

“It was just a foul,” Teletovic said. “I just tried to make a foul, and he was coming down the court. He shouldn’t be reacting like that. It’s just basketball.”

Teletovic then did something he might come to regret. The European needled James on Twitter when he posted a screen shot of the scuffle and wrote, “Five in a row…Go @BrooklynNets :) lol ;)” Teletovic then changed the background of his Twitter page to a large picture of the incident.

https://twitter.com/Teletovic33/status/421920903006789632


VIDEO: Mirza Teletovic and LeBron James scuffle

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No. 4: Count the Trail Blazers out of the Andrew Bynum sweepstakes – The Andrew Bynum 8 — the reported eight teams interested in pursuing the big man’s services for the remainder of this season — does not include that surprise outfit in Portland. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that the Trail Blazers, true contenders this season in a loaded Western Conference playoff chase, have not registered any legitimate interest in Bynum:

The Portland Trail Blazers could use an extra big man on their bench, but if they did decide to make a play for one between now and the trade deadline, it won’t be for center Andrew Bynum.

CSNNW.com was informed by a well-placed league source that Portland is not one of the reported eight teams interested in Bynum. Another source backed it up saying, “Portland has not inquired” about the services of the 7-foot free agent Bynum.

This revelation isn’t much of a surprise.

There are a couple of reasons why Portland opted not to take such a risk: the concern regarding Bynum’s character and how he would fit inside a locker room that has gelled seamlessly, had to have been a huge road block. Bynum has had his share of knee problems, a road Portland is reluctant to travel down.

The other obstacle is Portland is already carrying 15, the maximum amount of players allowed on a roster. If they were thinking of adding a player such as Bynum, someone would have to be released.

And being that every Trail Blazer on the roster has a guaranteed contract for this season, if Portland did decided to waive a player to make room for a free agent, they would have to eat the contract of that released player.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner claims there might be film of Wilt Chamberlain‘s 100-point game … Deron Williams will not make the trip to London with the Brooklyn Nets … Lakers on the verge of getting injured shooting guard (Xavier Henry not Kobe Bryant) back this week … Speaking of the Lakers, GM Mitch Kupchak says “taking” is never discussed in Lakerland.

ICYMI of The Night: Who, you ask, is Jeff Ayres? He would be the former Jeff Pendergraph of the San Antonio Spurs, the same man you here getting his Dunk of the Night on in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves:


VIDEO: Ayres throws it down over the Timberwolves

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

For New Kings, Three Must Be Company


VIDEO: The Starters break down Rudy Gay being traded to the Kings

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – What happens when three of the NBA’s top usage players come together on the same team, in one starting lineup? That is now first-year Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone‘s Rubik’s Cube.

As Rudy Gay, the man atop the analytics movement’s love-to-hate list — and it’s reciprocal — watched his new team play Monday night from under a red-and-blue retro Kings hat, he surely enjoyed the offensive explosion Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and his other new teammates dropped on the Dallas Mavericks in a resounding victory.

And then Gay surely wondered from where is he going to get his?

“That’s a good question,” Malone said. “You start Isaiah, who has always been a scoring guard. You have DeMarcus, who’s going to be the focal point of our offense. And then you add a guy like Rudy. And you have Ben [McLemore]. You have Derrick [Williams]. The one thing I’m proudest about is that we’re really sharing the ball. We haven’t shot the ball as well as we’d like this year, but the ball movement, the unselfishness, has been there.

“That’s going to be my challenge to this group now.”

Against Dallas, Cousins scored 32 points and attempted 17 shots. Thomas, a pound-the-rock point guard, scored 24 and took 16 shots. Williams scored 31, also on 16 shots. The Kings, as Malone noted, are also developing the rookie shooting guard McLemore, who got seven shots. That’s 56 shot attempts among four players.

Enter Gay. The Kings acquired the handsomely paid and athletic 6-foot-8 forward — infamously known by a burgeoning group of meddlesome analytics worshipers as the game’s great ball-stopper — knowing he averages nearly as many shot attempts per game (18.6) as points (19.4).

When the Kings (6-13) take the floor tonight at Sleep Train Arena against the last-place Jazz (10 ET, League Pass), assuming Gay is ready to go, the starting lineup will be Thomas, McLemore, Gay, Jason Thompson and Cousins. The league’s rules committee has not yet convened to allow for the use of more than one basketball.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Cousins said when asked if the addition of Gay will mean subtracting from his team-high 17.2 shot attempts per game. “We have our game plans here and we have a system. Coach is going to do the best job of putting us in a position that he thinks is best and whatever that may be that’s what we’re going to go with.”

With that, usage will become the hot advanced stat of the day in Sacramento. Usage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. Cousins ranks No. 1 among all players — not just centers, but all players — with a usage percentage of 35.0 percent. Among centers, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez is second at 26.9 percent. Dwight Howard‘s usage is 23.5 percent.

Despite being the backup to the traded Greivis Vasquez, Thomas ranks tied for sixth among guards in usage with Dwyane Wade at 27.7 percent (Greivis’ usage percentage was 18.8 percent). Gay’s usage, 30.1 percent with the Raptors, ranks third among forwards behind Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.

To compare other trios, the Rockets’ usage looks like this: James Harden, 27.3 percent; Howard, 23.5 percent; and Chandler Parsons, 18.9 percent. Here’s the Thunder: Russell Westbrook, 32.0 percent; Durant 30.7 percent; and Serge Ibaka, 19.1 percent.

Not only did the Kings add another high-usage player in Gay, but also an inefficient player. He’s shooting just 38.8 percent on the season (although his 3-point accuracy is way up at 37.3 percent), an especially disappointing number considering he spent so much time during the offseason working to raise a shooting percentage that has sagged badly over the past two seasons.

Thomas and Cousins have been a strong duo. The Kings are scoring 111.7 points per 100 possessions when they’re on the floor together, which was limited — 242 minutes in 18 games, or about 13 mpg. Their minutes together should rise significantly now that Vasquez is out of the picture. Against Dallas — notably a poor defensive team — they played together for 36 minutes and registered an offensive rating of 119.9 and a defensive rating of 85.5.

Sacramento’s hope is that the addition of Gay forces defenses to pick their poison. Conversely, the analytics crowd is sounding the alarm, warning of an incoming poison pill.

“I know everyone’s hung up on his 38 percent this year,” Malone said. “But if you look at his numbers throughout his career, he’s shot well over 45 percent a number of seasons. I’m not as concerned as a lot of these analytic people get concerned about. He’s a very talented player. End of games, he can make plays for you. He’s versatile. He can score in the post, handling the ball, catch-and-shoot, isolation. He’s talented and we become a much more talented team with him.”

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper contributed to this report.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay talks about his move to Sacramento, hopes for Kings

Vegas Chips: Kings, Cousins Rising? Goodwin A Keeper? Brown At Home?

 

LAS VEGAS – Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. OK, that does. But these don’t:

KINGS FIND ‘GOOD-LUCK CHARM?’

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The most remarkable comment I heard during Summer League came from new Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone about DeMarcus Cousins after he watched the final game from the bench with the summer Kings searching for their first win, which they got: “I told him he was our good-luck charm.”

Wow. When Cousins is suddenly deemed a good-luck charm, you know things aren’t the same old same old. This guy was like the Grim Reaper in Sac, delivering seriously bad vibes wherever he wandered. But maybe, just maybe, new ownership, a new front office and a new coaching staff is breaking through the darkness (74-156 during Cousins’ three seasons) and getting through to the immature-yet-wildly talented big man.

Throughout the game, Cousins was encouraging rookie Ben McLemore to remain confident with his shot and the former Jayhawk went on to score 27 points with nine rebounds.

“I went to Alabama and spent some time with him and his family (this summer),” Malone said. “I thanked him for coming to this game and I’ll come back up (to Las Vegas) and spend some time with him with USA basketball. But I told him he was our good-luck charm. All our other veterans came, we couldn’t win a game. DeMarcus came and we got a win, so we needed that presence on the bench.”

Nothing wrong with doting on Cousins. Malone will give The 6-foot-11, 270-pounder who turns 23 next month — yes, it’s difficult to remember how young he still is — equal parts coddling and hard coaching. Cousins, entering his fourth season, is working on his third coach for a franchise that has operated at the height of dysfunction since he was drafted fifth overall after one season at Kentucky.

Even so, Cousins, despite rampant childish behavior, ejections and fines, has put up impressive numbers thus far. His career averages? Try 16.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 0.9 bpg in 29.8 mpg. Want to do a little comparison? Here’s Dwight Howard‘s numbers after his first three seasons: 15.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg in 35.4 mpg. If you extrapolate Cousins’ numbers to per-36 minutes, his totals jump to 19.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.1 bpg.

It’s why new ownership and management believe if they can straighten out Cousins upstairs, they’ll have a foundation block and the face of the franchise they desperately want. That’s a notion that even Cousins says he can now envision. Continuing to compete with the game’s other young stars at Team USA workouts as he is this week can only benefit Cousins and the Kings.

“I believe I mature after every season,” Cousins told reporters Monday’s workout. “I believe people forget I am just 22. At the same time I’ve got a big responsibility. It’s going to take me time, and I’m still learning. But I believe I do improve every year.”

How much can the Kings improve this season? It’s not time to call them a playoff contender in a stacked Western Conference, but they finally appear to be headed in a positive direction. The Kings acquired emerging 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez (career-highs 13.9 ppg, 9.0 apg last season) from New Orleans in the Tyreke Evans trade. Marcus Thornton will likely start at shooting guard, with rookies McLemore and Ray McCallum, who had an impressive Summer League (12.6 ppg, 4.0 apg), adding intriguing depth. Blue-collar forward Carl Landry is back in town and defensive-minded Luc Mbah a Moute joins a front line that includes Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson.

There’s also a budding camaraderie. Point guard Isaiah Thomas, Thornton, Thompson and Jimmer Fredette made appearances in Vegas and even worked out with the summer team.

“From Jason Thompson to Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer, Marcus Thornton, even DeMarcus, them coming around, sensing the change in the ownership and the commitment from ownership, our front office staff, our coaching staff, they know it’s a new day in Sacramento,” Malone said. “I think they’re all excited, looking forward to the change that’s ahead.”

It’s a welcome change for a beleaguered franchise that just months ago was on the brink of bolting for Seattle.

LATE FIRST-ROUND SLEEPER?

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One-and-done Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin was advised to stay in school. His Summer League performance might have been the start of showing why he did not. A lanky 6-foot-5 with long arms, Goodwin finished third on the Suns in scoring (13.1 ppg). More impressive, he shot 50 percent from the floor (26-for-52) — significantly better than his 44 percent as a college freshman — and made eight of his 14 3-point attempts for 57.1 percent (he was 17-for-64 at Kentucky).

“I know what I’m capable of and I just wanted everybody else to know that I can be something they had question marks on,” Goodwin said.

Most impressive was Goodwin’s last game in the inaugural Summer League tournament championship game against eventual-champion Golden State. Yes, it’s only Summer League, but the stakes and pressure were at their highest in a very competitive atmosphere. Goodwin scored 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. He also had games of 22 and 20 points and scored in double figures in five of the seven games.

He consistently outplayed 2012 lottery pick Kendall Marshall, who averaged 5.6 ppg and 4.0 apg while shooting just 38.7 percent overall, although 40 percent from beyond the arc. (As our own Scott Howard-Cooper reported, Marshall was on the trading block in Phoenix even before Summer League began.)

Goran Drajic has the starting point guard job locked down along with newly acquired shooting guard Eric Bledsoe. Shannon Brown is a veteran presence off the bench and Malcolm Lee was acquired via a Draft-day trade with Golden State that netted Goodwin.

First-year coach Jeff Hornacek, a salty combo guard in his playing days with Phoenix and Utah, coached the Suns’ summer squad and aid Goodwin’s talent and athleticism are obvious. Now it’s a matter of how much he improves and learns through training camp, Hornacek added.

“I’ve learned just about how to play the game,” Goodwin said of playing under Hornacek. “He’s taught me a lot of things. Before we came here I was with him working out. He taught me things on my shot, taught me how to read situations, when to kick the ball, when to attack, things like that. So he’s been really good for me.”

BROWN IN CLEVELAND COMFORT ZONE

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It’s a little weird for a coach to go back to the team that fired him, unless he’s Billy Martin. But, Mike Brown is doing just that, returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after being fired after the 2009-10 season and before LeBron James‘ decision to bolt. Cleveland hired Byron Scott to replace Brown and now Brown, fired last season by the Lakers after a 1-4 start, replaces Scott.

Brown, 43, is a bit older and wiser after his experiences as the only man to coach both James and Kobe Bryant. Maybe he was out of his element in post-Phil Jackson Lakerland (and who wasn’t last season?), but Brown said he wouldn’t change his approach if he had it to do all over again.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing. I feel like I’m going to be the same coach,” Brown said. “If I was able to go through the same experience again, I’d probably do it the same way. I felt like I worked hard. I felt like I had a plan. It felt like in time the plan would have been executed in the right way, so I enjoyed my time there. But just like any other business that you’re in, when you go through trials and tribulations, whether it’s positive or negative or whatever, you grow in all types of ways. So I feel like I’ve grown. I feel like I’ve matured, not only on the floor as a coach, but even off the floor, too. So a lot of positives I take from that situation.”

Brown said he and his family always loved living in Cleveland, in fact, they were moving back even before the job offer came along. And, by the way, he has a pretty nice roster to work with, including a rising star in Kyrie Irving, as Brown tries to lead the Cavs back to the playoffs for the first time since he and LeBron left town.

McLemore Ends Summer With A Showcase

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LAS VEGAS – The knee-jerk crowd was already worked up about Ben McLemore and his shot that had gone wonky. Relax folks, it’s just Summer League and in Friday’s finale, the kid who was one-and-done at Kansas put on a show that should again pump up the hype machine.

McLemore scored 19 of his game-high 27 points in the third quarter to lead the Kings to their first and only summer win, 93-87, over the Atlanta Hawks in the consolation bracket of the tournament.

“What I liked more than his shooting tonight was he had nine rebounds,” said new Kings coach Mike Malone, who has been in Vegas running practices with the summer team and observing games while assistant Chris Jent handled the bench duties.

Through the five games, McLemore might have gone just 26-for-78 from the floor (33.3 percent) and he’ll have to figure out the NBA 3-point distance after going just 7-for-36 (19.4 percent), but he also scored 26 points in a game against Toronto to go with Friday’s 27 on 10-for-21 shooting. Take away his errant 3-ball and and he was 8-for-13 from inside the arc.

At 6-foot-5 — and he’ll beef up his 195-pound frame — McLemore has the size coaches love at the 2, and he showed off his ability to run the floor and finish with thunderous jams that lifted special guest DeMarcus Cousins out of his seat on the bench. More impressive was the patience he showed on offense to put the ball on the floor and maneuver to get his shot. He and impressive second-round pick, point guard Ray McCallum played well together with several of McCallum’s 11 assists (with 12 points) went to McLemore.

“He’s a great kid and he’s working his butt off,” Malone said. “He’s given great focus and he’s willing to learn. At breakfast with him [Thursday], the big thing was keep your head up, don’t get down on yourself; we still love you, we still believe in you and I wanted him to come out here the last game and just be aggressive and play confidently, and he showed that in the third quarter.

That’s when McLemore completed a flurry of plays that left little doubt as to why the Kings nabbed the athletic shooting guard last month at No. 7. Allow the Kings’ official twitter feed to provide the highlights:

“Ben is just not a shooter,” Malone said. “He’s an all-around basketball player. If your jump shot is not going, you’ve got to find different ways to affect the game and I thought he did that tonight.”

McLemore got plenty of encouragement from Cousins on the bench, as well as throughout summer league as the Kings veterans Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette made stops in Vegas, with Thomas and Thornton participating in a couple of practices.

McLemore has a chance to be an instant contributor for a club that suddenly has a refreshed attitude and renewed  hope since the sale of the team, the change in the front office and on the bench. The trade that sent Tyreke Evans to New Orleans likely puts Thornton in the starting lineup with McLemore behind him.

“Even if they didn’t make that trade, I know I was going to come in and work my hardest and work for a spot,” McLemore said. “At the same time it’s a great opportunity for me.”

So great that the native of Wellston, Mo., will spend much of the offseason in Sacramento working on his game, preparing for the increased speed and intensity levels of the game and the decreased spacing on the floor, the great shifts from college to the NBA that he already discovered in Vegas.

“I’m going to work on my all-around game, ball handling, keep shooting, get a lot of shots up, and just work on a lot of things I need to improve on,” McLemore said.

Hot List: Top 10 Restricted Free Agents





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Unlike their unrestricted free agent peers, this summer won’t be the fresh start some of this summer’s most notable restricted free agents are hoping for.

Their current teams have the right to match any offers they receive, meaning that the lucrative, long-term deal some of these guys are looking for might come with strings attached. Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks plays a marquee position in a market that doesn’t seem to fit his persona or personality.

He turned down a $40 million extension in the fall, making clear his intention to push for a bigger deal or an eventual departure — he could play the 2013-14 season on a qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2014 — from Fear The Deer territory.

As always, Jennings isn’t the only restricted free agent of note this summer. The full list of them can be found on our handy-dandy Free Agent Tracker.

Jennings is the headliner on the Top 10 Restricted Free Agents list, but hardly the only notable name …

Brandon Jennings, G, Milwaukee Bucks

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: A first-team All-Rookie pick in 2010, Jennings solidified his credentials as a starting point guard in four seasons with the Bucks. He started 289 of the 291 games he played in and helped guide the Bucks to the playoff twice in his first four seasons. A big time scorer, Jennings has the charisma and personality to help you win games and sell tickets.
What he’s not saying: He’s still barely 170 pounds soaking wet. There are still some front office types who think he’s more of a poor man’s Allen Iverson instead of the young Mike Conley they hoped he might be at this stage of his career.
What he’s worth: Jennings believes he’s worth every penny of a max deal somewhere. Remember, he famously boasted that he was better than Ricky Rubio and has gone about the business of trying to prove as much night in and night out. But a max deal is out of the question in Milwaukee and probably anywhere else. The Bucks aren’t going to bid against themselves for a player who has made it clear that he is interested in playing in a bigger market. He’s already turned down a four-year offer with $40 million, making it clear that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and let the market set his value.
Likely landing spot(s): The Bucks have the right to match any offers. Any interested teams know that all they have to do is wait this situation out and pursue Jennings in the free-agent summer of 2014.

Jeff Teague, G, Atlanta Hawks

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: Teague is coming off of his best season as a pro, having averaged career highs in points (14.6) and assists (7.2) while asserting himself as a true lead guard for a playoff team. He’s only scratched the surface of his potential and, at 24, is still young enough to project major upside in the coming years.
What he’s not saying: Teague is not a great defender at what is easily the deepest position in the league. And his assist numbers (3.0) in 29 career playoff games suggest that he might not be on track to become the elite facilitator a team needs in a point guard.
What he’s worth: The Hawks didn’t do him any favors by not even offering him an extension on his rookie contract before the Halloween deadline. Making that pill even tougher to swallow for Teague is the fact that the two point guards drafted directly ahead of him in 2009, Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday ($10 million a year) and Ty Lawson ($12 million a year), both agreed to terms on four-year deals at the deadline. If they’ve set the bar — Holiday blossomed into an All-Star this season while Lawson had an equally strong case but missed out in a deep crop of Western Conference point guards — Teague is in a tough negotiating spot with the Hawks.
Likely landing spot(s): Teague needs a team desperate for a young point guard to present an offer sheet that exceeds what the Hawks might be willing to pay (anything near $10 million a year would be a bit of a shock). Utah is still searching for a long-term answer at point guard and could poke around and see if the Hawks will let Teague walk. But the Hawks are likely to keep him on a qualifying offer and he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Tyreke Evans, G, Sacramento Kings

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: A Rookie of the Year and at one time considered the future face of the franchise in Sacramento, Evans averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his first season. A super-sized point guard, he used his size and skill to his advantage in that role with the Kings. He’s most definitely selling the Tyreke Evans we all saw his rookie season.
What he’s not saying: While he didn’t experience the steep statistical drop off in his next three seasons, Evans is fighting the perception that he bottomed out during those three seasons. The Kings certainly seem to have moved on from Evans being a franchise cornerstone during these past three seasons, hence the absence of an extension offer. Isaiah Thomas supplanted him at point guard and Evans has played out of position ever since.
What he’s worth: This is where things get tricky for Evans, because some team with cap space to work with is going to eyeball Evans and remember that he’s a 6-foot-6, 220-pound combo guard with an ability to run a team and calculate the risk of snatching him away from an uncertain situation with the Kings. If Darko Milicic got $20 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves, someone has to be willing to offer Evans a similar deal.
Likely landing spot(s): Dallas and Atlanta are both in full-blown roster-rebuild mode and could use a talent like Evans at a reasonable price to help get things rolling. He could be the steal of the summer if someone makes a play for him and waits to see if the Kings will match the offer or let him walk.

Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: With the eternal premium on productive big men, Pekovic showed flashes of being an absolute nightmare in the low post for opposing teams. A 7-foot, 300-pound block of granite, Pekovic averaged 16.3 ppg and 8.8 rpg last season and held it down in the Timberwolves’ frontcourt without Kevin Love available for the majority of the season. He’s got a size/skill-set combination that makes him a rarity in a league that treasures big men who can play high impact basketball on both ends of the floor.
What he’s not saying: The only problem with Pekovic is the 174-game sample size teams have to work with in evaluating the upside of a big man who is 26 and perhaps already deeper into his physical prime than you want a third-year player to be.
What he’s worth: The Houston Rockets used a three-year, $25 million offer sheet to pry Omer Asik away from the Chicago Bulls last summer. An offer like that could work similar wonders for someone trying to slip into the Twin Cities and sneak out with a starting center.
Likely landing spot(s): Minnesota can’t afford to let him walk, not with the regime change and whatever other roster changes Flip Saunders and his new crew have in store. Plus, Pekovic has become a cult favorite in Minneapolis.

Tiago Splitter, F/C, San Antonio Spurs

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent.
What he’s selling: A three-year apprenticeship under the great Tim Duncan can’t be a bad place for a big man to start when resume building. Splitter’s third NBA season turned out to be the charm, as he finally showed some signs of being the low-post factor he was billed as when the Spurs made him their top Draft pick in 2007. The Brazilian big man finally earned a regular spot in Gregg Popovich‘s rotation, another sign and seal of approval, averaging career highs in points (10.3), rebounds (6.4) and minutes (24.7). He made 58 starts this season, 52 more than he did in the two previous season combined.
What he’s not saying: Those previous two seasons mentioned were less than stellar. Splitter has ideal size for a NBA big man but didn’t leave a large footprint early on, the transition from Spanish League MVP to NBA regular being much tougher than anyone anticipated for him.
What he’s worth: Like almost every skilled big man, Splitter is going to be worth more than a man half his size with better credentials. That’s just the way things work in this league. He’s due for a significant raise from the $3.9 million he’s earning this season. In fact, he should have no trouble doubling that in a free agent market (for unrestricted and restricted free agents) that is relatively light on centers.
Likely landing spots: The Spurs have the right of first refusal and will exercise that right if the offers come in at the right number. But Dallas and Atlanta have to have him on their short lists, with several other teams focusing in on him early on in the process.

THE NEXT FIVE: Gerald Henderson, Charlotte; Darren Collison, Dallas; Timofey Mozgov, Denver; Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana; Chase Budinger, Minnesota.