Posts Tagged ‘James Harden’

Blogtable: Putting up big numbers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?


> ‘Melo says it won’t be him. LeBron’s not worried about scoring and has other weapons. KD is hurting for awhile. Do you see a new scoring champ this year?

Carmelo Anthony (Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony
(Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comRussell Westbrook has the tools and the mentality, but he’ll be back to sharing the OKC offense with Durant soon enough. So I’m going with Houston’s James Harden, who will be able to play just selfishly enough – based on what the Rockets will need from him – to chase the scoring crown.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHello, James Harden. He’s coming off consecutive seasons of averaging more than 25 points per game (ranked 5th in 2014), the Rockets have lost a considerable bit of their punch from last year in Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin and that likely means Harden will be asked/needed to put up more shots to fill the void. He’s never had to be asked twice to shoot more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well that was nice of ‘Melo to take himself out of the scoring race, sort of how Kevin Durant bowed out late in the 2012-13 season to sort of let ‘Melo get his one scoring title. But, geez, looking at the Knicks’ roster, it seems to me that ‘Melo’s gonna have to light it up nighty. But since he says he’s out, we’ll omit him. And let’s say Durant won’t come back and take it, and surmise that LeBron James will spread the wealth with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. So go to the next guy on the list, and last year that was James Harden. With Chandler Parsons now firing 3s in Dallas, Harden has even more opportunity to pump in the points, and, quite frankly, the Rockets just might need him to score 30 a night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sets up nicely for Stephen Curry, doesn’t it? I don’t agree with Carmelo’s premise, and I won’t count Durant out, but for the sake of conversation, Curry is a solid choice with the Warriors emphasizing ball movement. Just what the rest of the league needs. Steph getting more open looks. And Paul George should be mentioned in the question among the missing. If not for the knee injury, I probably would have gone with him for the non-Melo, non-LeBron, non-KD scoring title.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI don’t believe Carmelo. Yes, he’s being asked to move the ball more in the Triangle offense. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t still get his shots or that the Knicks won’t still rely on him to carry their offense. And they’re going to need a lot of offense, because their defense will be pretty poor. I wouldn’t take Melo against the field, but he’s my pick.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. I don’t care what Carmelo thinks or says, it’s his scoring title to lose, even with the new triangle-based offense in New York. But that doesn’t mean there are not plenty of eager candidates — James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and others — willing to step into the fray and chase that top spot. The truly elite, scoring championship chasers are far and few between. There are only a handful of them playing at any given time, and even fewer of them who stay healthy long enough and stay locked in long enough and consistently enough to stay in the mix for an entire season. Triangle or not, it’s ‘Melo’s title to lose.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Kobe? Have you watched the Lakers in the preseason? Kobe is taking a lot of shots — in the last two games combined he’s taken 45 field goals and 24 free throws. The Lakers probably aren’t going to be very good, but Kobe’s gonna be Kobe, which means he’ll keep getting buckets and will play as many minutes as he possibly can. And if he’s in the mix for scoring leader with a few months to go, that might be the only thing the Lakers have to play for.

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

Jackson’s dreams await with patience

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

reggie-jackson

Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists last season in 28.5 minutes. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener Wednesday night at Denver, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how many impassioned pleas he makes.

“I want it. I feel strong about it. I want to be the starter,” Jackson said a couple of weeks ago during Media Day, delivering a rambling and emotional speech that spilled over the 10 minutes allotted for each player. “What I have always grown up just believing, I want a majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best, I want to play against Chris Paul, I want to play against Kyrie Irving, I want to be mentioned on the highest of levels.”

It’s certainly admirable. It’s just not practical. Three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s starting point guard, and coach Scott Brooks just anointed him best in the business.

But that’s not the point here. Oklahoma City has a starting job open at shooting guard, not point guard. Jackson, a quick, 6-foot-3 point guard, filled the 2-guard spot well several times during the second round and the West finals when Brooks benched longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha moved on to Atlanta and OKC will replace him in-house. Just not with Jackson.

The overriding issue is — and this should make Jackson feel all warm and fuzzy — he’s too valuable right where he is. It’s more ideal for OKC to fill in the starting 2-guard spot (second-year player Andre Roberson, a defensive-minded two-guard with little offensive upside, and erratic Jeremy Lamb, a natural for the position as a lanky 6-foot-5 shooter if he can ever harness consistency, are the top options) than to replace Jackson’s critical production off the bench.

It’s unfortunate really. Here’s a young player so determined to make a name for himself but is convinced being a reserve is taking a back seat. Brooks and others try to tell him it’s more impressive to be a “finisher,” which he is, that he’ll log as many minutes as a sub and he’ll play many, many minutes alongside Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The decision to not start Jackson isn’t a personal one, or one made because there’s somebody better to do it. As shown above, there’s not. Keeping Jackson on the bench is purely strategic. OKC needs his aggression, penetration and scoring to lead the second unit. As they realized last season, the Thunder bench is compromised without him.

“For some people [starting is] important. To others it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team, the head of the snake.”

Again, admirable, but not realistic. Intertwined in all this is Jackson’s eligibility for an extension by the end of the month as he enters his fourth season. If one doesn’t get done he’ll enter next summer as a restricted free agent, which seems the likely path, where other teams can set his value.

Comparisons have been made to James Harden‘s situation a couple of years ago when OKC stunned everybody and traded him to Houston before the start of the 2012-13 season. But lets not confuse Jackson for Harden, a No. 3 overall pick and an emerging star when he was dealt. Jackson, the 24th pick, barely got off the bench as a rookie. He averaged 14.2 minutes the next season before being thrust into the starting lineup in the first round of the playoffs after Westbrook injured his knee. He started 36 games last season when Westbrook was out and staked himself as key contributor. His 32 points in 37 brilliant minutes off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis, all but saved an embarrassing first-round exit.

A more accurate comparison is Eric Bledsoe, the 18th pick in 2010 (actually drafted by the Thunder and traded to the Clippers) who spent three seasons backing up CP3. He got his break last season after being traded to Phoenix. He played great in a two point-guard backcourt with Goran Dragic and the Suns made fast strides. Although Bledsoe missed half the season with a knee injury, he cashed in as a restricted free agent with the Suns — albeit rather contentiously — on a five-year, $70 million contract.

Jackson won’t get that chance to start, but what he has that Bledsoe did not is the opportunity to win a championship. If he does that, or even gets close, while being perceived as a selfless, super sixth man, all of Jackson’s boyhood dreams will be in front of him starting next summer.

Just not likely with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

McHale counts ways he’ll miss Parsons


VIDEO: How will the Mavs benefit with the addition of Chandler Parsons?

DALLAS – While Dwight Howard and James Harden have suggested the Houston Rockets will be just fine without Chandler Parsons because, well, they’re the best center and two-guard in the game, thank you, at least one member in red might just miss the small forward now playing in Dallas: Kevin McHale.

Parsons had been the sole survivor off McHale’s first team in Houston in 2011-12. The coach grew fond of the rapidly ascending second-round pick who, under McHale, emerged as a fringe All-Star candidate and a final cut this summer for Team USA.

McHale brought his Rockets to Dallas on Tuesday night to open the preseason. The 6-foot-9 Parsons led the Mavs with 14 points, all coming in the first half when he played a game-high 16 minutes, as if Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wanted to immediately show the Rockets exactly what they’ll miss.

“I talked to Rick about him. I told Rick he’ll do well for him,” McHale said. “I thought he was a good glue guy for the team. I think he’s in a good spot right now. Rick will do a good job with him. As with all young guys, he talked to me about it multiple times, he wanted to get a contract, he wanted to get all this stuff. Everybody, when you come into the league, you want a lot of stuff, and then when you get it, you realize it’s basketball and basketball is the most important thing. But I’m glad he’s got it. I’m sure he’ll settle down now and not be talking about money all the time. He’s killing me with talking about money all the time. He’s got enough of it now.”

McHale, of course, was grinning, if not aching inside. And Parsons, who has acknowledged that he never believed he’d be leaving Houston, is all smiles, too. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey passed on matching the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Mavs owner Mark Cuban hand-delivered to Parsons at an Orlando, Fla., bar in early July.

Chandler scored with relative ease on his old mates and in a variety of ways, sinking two of his three 3-point attempts, splashing a mid-range jumper, slashing to the basket and going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. The Mavs are anticipating a big year for their new acquisition playing off Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s 10th all-time leading scorer, and Monta Ellis, a super penetrator. The 3-ball, which Parsons shot at a 37 percent clip last season, should be readily available to him on the weak side.

“I thought Chandler got better every year,” McHale said. “He’s a good playmaker, good off the dribble, shoots that line-drive jumper just good enough it goes in every once in a while. He’ll make 3s even though you wouldn’t probably look at his shot and think he’s a 3-point [shooter], but he makes a high percentage of them. He’s a big guy, you can switch stuff with him defensively, so I mean he gave us a lot. He was a very good player for us and he’ll be a very good player for Dallas.”

McHale couldn’t stop.

“I just think he had a good all-around game, his ability to drive-and-kick, likes taking big shots,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to miss. We’re just going to have to fill in around him and find players that can come in and do some of the stuff he did.”

Houston signed veteran two-way forward and former Rocket Trevor Ariza to replace the 25-year-old Parsons in the starting lineup.

“Trevor’s got really good instincts defensively, he’s long, shoots the ball real well … so he’ll help,” McHale said. “Of course, he’ll have to help us a lot. He’ll have to have a big year for us like Dwight and James has to also.”

Houston believes Donatas Motiejunas is ready to make an impact. The skilled, 7-foot power forward had a game-high 18 points to lead the Rockets to the 111-108 victory in a strange exhibition that included 81 fouls and 109 free throws. The Rockets are hopeful Greek import Kostas Papanikolaou can contribute and that former Mavs guard Jason Terry has some 3-ball magic left in his game.

It’s certainly a reshuffled roster from the team that won 54 games in the first year of the Harden-Howard pairing. After flirting with Carmelo Anthony, it seemed Houston’s big-game hunting GM was on the cusp of signing Chris Bosh and bringing back Parsons to form a true heavyweight. But Bosh took Miami’s money and Houston was left empty-handed.

So now it’s up to McHale to figure out how to mold a handful of new role players, most unaccomplished in the league. And it’s up to Howard and Harden, the self-anointed best center and two-guard in the NBA, to lead and keep the Rockets in the Western Conference title conversation.

“Just play basketball,” Howard said after getting six points, six rebounds and six fouls in 15 minutes of game time. “I let the people up top do their job. I can’t focus on nothing but what I can do to help this team win. We got some pretty good pieces on this team and I think we’re going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 8


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban offers up cautions about ending max deals | Harden to one day help recruit Durant? | Monroe starts preseason in reserve role | Pacers hoping for more aggressive Hill

No. 1: Cuban: Ending max deals creates new issue — Now that the NBA has secured its new media-rights deals, superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant are among the players to chime in on how said deal will affect future Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Those two basically share the mindset that the new media-rights deal means the current CBA should be torn up, with Durant going as far as to say max deals shouldn’t exist anymore. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban explained before last night’s Rockets-Mavs game how making such a move could have far-reaching repercussions, writes our Jeff Caplan:

“If you give up guarantees,” Cuban said. “It’s a trade-off.”

Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant suggested there should no longer be a restriction on how much the league’s top talent can earn because those players generate significant revenue and can’t be paid what they’re worth under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Durant, who can become a free agent in 2016, made the suggestion to do away with max deals in the wake of the NBA announcing a nine-year TV and digital rights extension that the New York Times reported is worth $2.66 billion annually.

Cuban said owners discussed doing away with max contracts during labor negotiations in 2011 and would be willing to do so again, but players would have to be willing to give up fully guaranteed contracts. When an NBA player signs their contract, he is guaranteed the full amount even if he is eventually cut by the team or injured.

Doing away with guaranteed contracts would move the NBA to more of an NFL model where guaranteed money is only a portion of the total stated value of the contract.

“It was discussed during the lockout time among owners, but never got anywhere. So it was just one of those trial balloons,” Cuban said. “I’m not offering this as a negotiation, I’m not suggesting it, all I’m saying is that was something we discussed before, and max contracts are always big question, guarantees are always a big question. But we have two years before that’s even an issue, so no point discussing it now.”

Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have been quick to point to the new TV deal, plus unprecedented sale prices of several franchises including the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, as further evidence that team owners can no longer claim they’re losing money.

During the last negotiations, the league said 22 of the 30 teams were operating at a loss. The players eventually agreed to a CBA in which their take of the league’s annual basketball-related income (BRI) was cut from 57 percent to 50 percent.

Cuban, however, essentially told the players to slow down.

“It’ll be the first time our TV money comes in above our ticket revenue,” Cuban said of the new deal. “It’s a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, and I’m grateful, but it’s not going to create so much incremental revenue after you pay out the percentages to the players that it’s going to be a shocking windfall. It’ll be good, but not shocking.”

The new TV deal virtually triples the $930 million per year the league takes in from its current TV deal. It takes effect for the 2016-17 season, and the salary cap is expected to rise with it to unprecedented levels, which will also raise player salaries across the board.

“Our net effect of impact per team is significant, but it’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re just going to be making $50 million apiece,” Cuban said. “We haven’t gotten NFL money.”

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Oct. 6


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Nuggets, Faried reach deal | Monroe, Smith say there’s no rift between them | Rockets amp up their physical play | Lakers lose Young for 6-8 weeks

No. 1: Report: Nuggets, Faried agree to $60M contract extension — Folks in Denver had to know this was coming, especially after Kenneth Faried‘s eye-opening performance during the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The energetic power forward and the Nuggets have agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal that keeps him in the Mile High City for years to come. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story and has more on the deal and what it means for Denver:

Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has reached agreement on a five-year, $60 million contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried is part of the 2011 NBA draft class eligible for extensions until Oct. 31.

The deal includes a partial guarantee in the fifth year that assures Faried he will make no less than $52 million over the life of the contract, sources said.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly and Faried’s agent, Thad Foucher of Wasserman Media Group, started to seriously exchange proposals in the past week and ultimately came to terms on a deal Sunday night, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Faried has developed into one of the NBA’s most relentless talents, a fierce rebounder and defender who has excelled offensively for the Nuggets when the game is speeded up. Faried played an integral part of the United States national team’s gold-medal performance in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain.

Faried, 24, is a tremendous success story in the NBA. As a 6-foot-8 post player out of mid-major Morehead State, Faried transformed himself from the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft into an integral part of the Nuggets’ long-term nucleus.

Faried averaged 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds last season.


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried and the Nuggets are in the midst of training camp

(more…)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Team: Harden’s O shines above all

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

At 25, James Harden is on track to become a perennial All-NBA contender for years to come.

At 25, James Harden is on track to become a perennial All-NBA contender for years to come.

Let’s get the elephant out of the way: James Harden is not a defensive specialist. His inattention to that end of the floor is common knowledge at this point. Long before a compilation of Harden’s defensive fails made its Internet rounds, Rockets fans were routine witnesses to his off-the-ball watching, feet-in-the-mud, swipe-around defense.

Like fellow perimeter non-defensive specialist Steve Nash (All-NBA first team from 2005-07), Harden plays with an innate feel for the game that warrants overlooking some blown coverages. The court vision is there. He is a deft passer. He uses his body and low center of gravity to find his way to the iron. Once he gets there, he is strong enough to finish through contact or earn a trip to the line, where he is near automatic.

For this reason alone, The Beard will be able to generate offense for a long time in the NBA. He is still young enough to make himself a stout deterrent. He plucked 1.6 steals per game last season, good for 17th in the league. He has quick, bear hands and a nose for the ball.

But that day may never come. Until then, his predictable yet unstoppable Euro-steps, old-man game and frequent scoring sprees should hold us over.

December 25, 2013 — Too Much For The Spurs

The Line: 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting, 16 in 4th quarter

The Quote:Coming into the game I wanted to keep (teammates) involved and keep them going and try to get mine at the end. It played out well.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden lights it up on Christmas Day

Harden is not a quiet scorer. He can get hot in a hurry and before you know it, he has a 15-point quarter. After building an 18-point lead early, the Rockets saw the Spurs claw back in it a little over a couple minutes into the fourth quarter. That’s when The Beard got busy.

He scored on the next four Houston possessions. His 3 with about five minutes left capped off 11 straight points and gave the Rockets a double-digit lead that would carry them to the end.

This was the second of four times last season the Rockets sent the future champs home in disappointment.

January 3, 2014 – Nail Biter With The Knicks

The Line: 37 points on 10-for-19 shooting, 12-for-12 at the line

The Quote: “It wasn’t the prettiest win, but at the end of the night a win is all that matters.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden’s huge game holds off ‘Melo and the Knicks

Harden didn’t think the win had aesthetic value, but his game was artistic. From the onset, he controlled matters for Houston, connecting on a bevy of step backs, pull-up shots and hard dribble drives. Frustrated Knicks defenders were unable to defend him without fouling or getting buried with a bucket.

With two and a half minutes left in the game, he sized up Carmelo Anthony and dropped him off on a pretty step-back jumper for his last deuce.

March 9, 2014 – Dousing The Blazers In H-Town

The Line: 41 points, 10 rebounds, 7 3s, 6 steals, 6 assists

The Quote:He is a freak. He is ridiculous. He is unbelievable.” – Chandler Parsons on Harden


VIDEO: Harden powers Houston’s comeback against Portland

Down 13 points to the Blazers at home in the fourth, Jimmy Beard went into overdrive. He cranked out four 3-pointers in the final frame, including one from the left corner to send the game into overtime. Time after time, he bailed the Rockets out with his isolation magic and led Houston to one of the season’s best comeback victories.

April 4, 2014 – Bashing The Thunder

The Line: 39 points, 17-for-20 from the line, 9 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “We were in ‘whatever it takes to win’ mode. We got it done.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden schools the Thunder to clinch a playoff berth

Mr. Harden doesn’t seem to lack for motivation in games against his ex-teammates. He had the aggression going early and often. When he wasn’t getting to the stripe, he was exercising accuracy from deep (4-for-8). When he wasn’t bombing from the land of trey, he was dishing to waiting teammates.

Eight of his 13 fourth-quarter points came at the line. The Thunder were foul-happy, yielding 37 attempts. Harden tallied more than half of that amount. Amazingly, Harden was able to coax fouls at will from a team he spent his first three years with. Fittingly, the win clinched another playoff berth.

April 12, 2014 – Snatching Victory From Jaws Of Pelicans

The Line: 33 points, 14 in 4th quarter, 13 assists

The Quote:We needed this win more than anything.” – Harden


VIDEO: Harden scores 14 in the fourth to lift Houston

For the third time this season, the Rockets were behind late to the Pelicans. For the third time this season, they overcame. Harden put on a show in the period with his usual trinity: 3s, penetrations, free throws. But that almost wasn’t enough.

Down 104-96 with 2:48 remaining, The Beard dished two dimes and scored another six to help Houston end the game on a 15-0 blitz to put away the Pels. This win stopped a skid and helped them maintain their hold on the fourth playoff spot in the West.

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

First Team: CP3, Doc make strides in L.A.

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul always has the ball on a string. He can dish with either hand, making any bounce pass through tight holes — and lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — possible from any angle. His pull-up jumper is lethal, and you have to get a hand up on him when he’s 23 feet out.

On the other side, he hounds. He flops. He annoys. He barks. His hands are active. In Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference semis, he alternated between guarding Russell Westbrook (First Team-worthy) and Kevin Durant (a fellow First Teamer) as his team completed a rally back from 22.

But then came the yang of the last 49 seconds of Game 5. A turnover, a foul on a four-point play and another turnover from Paul gave the Thunder the game. They would close out the series in Game 6. It was the type of loss that encapsulates Paul: The smart, methodical, ball-on-a-string point guard can be too smart, too methodical and too ball dominant at the worst moments.

He is still a cut above the rest, continuing to redefine the Clippers’ brand to newbies who have no clue about their inept past. At 29, he is an historically great hardwood bandit (2.41 spg ranks fourth all time) and passer (9.91 apg also third all-time). There are deeper playoff successes and a MVP award to be had, but with a capable motivator in coach Doc Rivers in his ear, his point guard supremacy threatens to remain for the foreseeable future.

Here are his top games last season:

October 31, 2013 – Dawn Of A Season-Long Rivalry

The Line: 42 points, 15 assists, 6 steals, 6 turnovers

The Quote:Man, I had six turnovers. That’s ridiculous. That means there was six times I didn’t give us an opportunity to score. I’m big on turnovers. I hate turnovers.” — Paul


VIDEO: Chris Paul carves up the Warriors in a Halloween matchup

Tiny Archibald should have been proud. Two nights after being handled by the Lakers in the season opener, Cliff Paul’s brother dealt out the complete package. He was sinking free-throw line jumpers, baseline turnaround jumpers. He had his way with a pre-Team USA Klay Thompson, including a bullying score on a post-up. He even got in a sneaky dunk in Jermaine O’Neal’s mug.

Then there were those three consecutive alley oops with Blake, as well as the verbal jabs and scowls at the Warriors bench. This was CP3’s point god night, only if god coughed up the pill six times. (more…)