Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Caplan’

Conley wants All-Star, wants wins more

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Grant Hill are in Mike Conley’s corner

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – So yeah, Mike Conley, one of the truly Mr. Nice Guys in the NBA, wants to see his name in lights as a Western Conference All-Star.

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Mike Conley (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about making the All-Star team. That would be the ultimate honor,” Conley told NBA.com last week. “But I also understand the way things shake out, especially being in the West, there’s a lot of good guys out there. I’m going to put myself in position, that’s all I can do; just play well and do what’s best for the team first. If we win games, we as individuals get noticed, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Conley didn’t even get a sniff in fan voting last year, and West coaches again overlooked him as a backup. It didn’t matter that he was on his way to averaging a career-best 17.2 points; or continued to extend his range beyond the 3-point arc (he made 36.1 percent on a career-high 4.0 attempts); or committed to attacking the rack more (his 548 drives ranked 15th in the league and, for comparison’s sake, were more than All-Stars John Wall and James Harden); or that he rarely turned it over (his 8.6 turnovers per 100 possessions ranked third among point guards behind Chris Paul and Jose Calderon); or that he’s strong on defense; or that his leadership was key for a 50-win team that got off to a disturbingly sluggish start under a new coach and then lost center Marc Gasol for a good chunk of of the season.

The quiet Conley knows even his best might not be loud enough in a conference loaded with noise-makers. Think about it: Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook didn’t even play in last year’s All-Star Game because of injuries. Bryant is a virtual lock to be voted in by the fans and Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, is likely to regain his reserve spot, especially if he elevates his play with Kevin Durant out for the first month.

While Conley steers Memphis’ methodical, inside-out offense, he’s watched Stephen Curry zoom to superstardom — even beat out Paul as a starter last year — and cold-blooded youngster Damian Lillard make the All-Star team as a reserve in his second season in the league. Knocking on the door is a long list of hopefuls: Ty Lawson, Suns teammates Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, plus Ricky Rubio and Jrue Holiday, an East All-Star two years ago. Not to mention four-time champ Tony Parker.

And those are just the point guards.

“It’s fun to be in this era of basketball where there’s so many great players, so many great guards, especially in the West where I get to play against them four times a year,” Conley said. “Every night you have your hands full no matter who you’re playing. That goes across the board. Every night you’re playing against a top-notch guard or a top-notch-caliber player, so you have to have your mind right, be focused and be on your best game.”

Conley’s best bet to crash the Big Apple All-Star bash this season is, as he said, to get the Grizzlies off to a fast start and steal the headlines. He believes Memphis is positioned to do just that.

“We’re going to be a team that people are going to hate to face, and have a chance to be considered as one of the teams contending for a title,” said Conley, who is entering his eight season in the league. “Going into the end of [last] year we started finally playing our basketball. We fought our way back into the playoffs and feel like we’re still on the up-and-up from that last run that we had.”

All that seemed to be spinning out of the players’ control during a very strange start to the offseason. Young owner Robert Pera wiped out the front office that had wiped out former coach Lionel Hollins, and before that had wiped out newly reinstated general manager Chris Wallace. Coach Dave Joerger, who took over for Hollins last year, interviewed with Minnesota before agreeing to stay in Memphis, where he arrived as an assistant in 2007, two years before Hollins took over and began to turn the program around.

“It was a little weird right after being in the playoffs and the first month or so of the summertime was a bunch of uneasy, unsure feelings,” Conley said. “Not knowing what coach’s situation was, what management’s was, you just kind of had to sit back and let all that play out. Luckily, I think things worked out for the best for us, and I’m glad that’s behind us and we’re able to focus on going forward.”

Yes, there finally does appear to be a calm and optimism in Memphis. Zach Randolph, suspended for last year’s first-round Game 7 loss to Oklahoma City, received the extension he wanted. Vince Carter was signed to knock down 3-pointers and Quincy Pondexter, injured almost all of last season after starting to emerge in the 2013 postseason, is a key returnee around an ego-free core that’s come of age together.

“When Lionel was here, a lot of us were still young, still learning and still trying to improve in a lot of different areas,” Conley said. “Now with the help of Lionel grooming us, to now Joeger — we’re doing the same things — he’s got us in our prime and we’re playing great basketball.”

Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Can LeBron’s new ‘mates stay healthy?

cavs

If the Cavaliers hope to win a championship this season, they’ll need both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor for the majority of games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Injuries unfortunately are making headlines again this preseason with seemingly a bushel of six-to-eight-week-type setbacks, Kevin Durant‘s right foot and Bradley Beal‘s left wrist being two of the most recent and most prominent.

Injuries to key players certainly can derail a season. Last year, Dwyane Wade‘s status was of constant concern to the Heat, and although he said otherwise, Wade seemed to labor through the NBA Finals. His ongoing knee maintenance and uncertainty of his availability week to week, and sometimes even game to game, was also the primary reason why it made sense for LeBron James to take his talents back to Cleveland and join a younger cast.

Wade missed 58 games over the last three seasons, 28 last year and there’s no guarantee this season he’ll be able to match the 54 games he played. But be careful. In Cleveland, the seemingly indestructible James (he’s never missed more than seven games in any of his 11 seasons) is paired with two All-Stars with something of an injury track record.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on Wednesday already sat out his third consecutive preseason game with a sprained ankle. In the first quarter of that game, Kevin Love left and did not return because of a stiff neck, an injury that isn’t believed to be serious.

Irving has missed 49 games over the last three seasons, pretty comparable to Wade, who has much more mileage on his body. Love missed 80 games over that same stretch with 64 coming during two different stretches of the 2012-13 season due to a twice-broken hand. He originally broke his right hand in the preseason by, he says, doing knuckle pushups. He returned earlier than expected, played 18 games, and then re-broke the hand. At the end of that season, Love had surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue.

Love missed just five games in his final frustrating season with Minnesota, and Irving gave the 33-win Cavs 71 games, missing 11. If new coach David Blatt can get anywhere near that availability from each player he’ll be ecstatic.

It’s just impossible to know. Some players seem to be more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe their bodies just aren’t as durable and their body parts succumb more easily. Irving is just 22 years old, but his list of injured body parts from one year at Duke through three seasons in the NBA could fill a medical encyclopedia: toe, biceps, shoulder, hand, finger, jaw, knees and now ankle.

Does it make him injury prone, or snake-bit? Does it mean he’ll always be one misstep away from trading in his uniform for a sport coat and a spot on the bench? Or is he just as likely to play all 82 games this season as he is to miss 10 games, or 20 games?

As Durant, who had missed only 16 of 558 regular-season games through his first seven seasons, said just 12 days before the Oklahoma City Thunder medical staff informed him he fractured his right foot and will miss up to two months: “You can get hurt walking outside. You hear that a lot, but you can get hurt anywhere. Freak accidents happen. But I’ve been playing this game so long that I know at any moment that something can happen.”

Love logged 36.3 minutes in 77 games last season. His injury history isn’t as ominous as Irving’s, but again, injuries are fickle. Love was already a bit banged up before the neck issue after he banged knees with Jabari Parker the night before.

As a rookie, Love played in 81 games. The next season he missed 22 games after he broke his left hand after banging it against a teammate’s elbow (does one of the league’s best rebounders and sweetest shooters have weak hands, or inexplicably bad luck with his hands?). In 2010-11, he missed nine games and then 11 the next season.

Health of course is a must for all teams. But for the championship-dreaming Cavaliers, already feeling a slight pinch from the injury bug, the ability for Irving and Love to remain on the floor with LeBron in their first season together is critical.

Is it possible? No one can answer that.

Blogtable: LeBron’s MVP challenger

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> Kevin Durant is likely out of the MVP picture, making LeBron the clear frontrunner. Who is your darkhorse MVP candidate?

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think Durant is out of MVP contention simply because he’ll miss games — if OKC were to sputter along below .500 without him, then win at an .800 clip with him, that would make all the MVP case he’d need. But I’ll play along: If James doesn’t win his fifth MVP, I’m guessing Chris Paul pushes the Clippers to something special out West and snags it. Media voters love imbuing point guards will all sorts of bonus intangibles that say “valuable” (which is why Chicago’s Derrick Rose could get back in the conversation, too).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m not sure you would label Chris Paul as a dark horse. But in the  second year under Doc Rivers and with the door opened by OKC, the Clippers could make a run at best record in the West/league and that could push CP3 over the top. Way outside in dark would be Anthony Davis, if he can somehow lead the Pelicans into the playoffs.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comStephen Curry. I’ve been a believer since the day Steve Kerr was hired that Golden State is going to have a fun and loose squad that will play the same way. They’ll maintain the defensive principles, but Kerr will usher in a much more appealing, go-go offense that is going to play right into Curry’s hands. He’s set to go bonkers, folks, and the Warriors (health be with them) will follow.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: On the assumption that by darkhorse you mean “Anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant”: Anthony Davis. The problem for Davis is that this will depend a lot on his teammates — the Pelicans are in position to make the playoffs, but if they miss, AD MVP would be a hard campaign to win. The problem for the rest of the league, meanwhile, is that he is ready to burst to the next level. He is established as a superstar into the next decade. The only question is whether that future arrives in 2014-15.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose would likely split the vote in Chicago, while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul would do the same in L.A. The Spurs are too balanced and the Pelicans won’t be good enough for Anthony Davis’ candidacy. So I’ll go with Stephen Curry, with the idea that the Warriors will improve offensively (into the top seven in efficiency) and win 50-plus games again, with Curry averaging something in the range of 25 points and 10 assists.

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI don’t know that “darkhorse” is the right word to use for what Russell Westbrook will be this season, but he’s my guy. With Kevin Durant out of the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for up to two months, Russ West will have the MVP platform that has eluded him the past couple of seasons. He’s certainly played like one at times. But there has always been the Durant factor that kept him from getting the sort of MVP love his production deserved. I know his performance comes with the high-risk, high-reward factor that has always driven his biggest critics a bit crazy. But he won’t be denied if the Thunder can stay afloat in the West without Durant the way they did last season when Westbrook was recovering from his knee surgery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Russell Westbrook? For basically his entire NBA career, Westbrook has been judged almost solely based in relation to the production of his teammate, Kevin Durant. But with Durant gone, we may finally get to see maximum Westbrook, where he can take as many shots as he wants and drive to the basket as often as he wants. Durant and Westbrook account for the bulk of OKC’s offense, so without Durant there’s a lot of making up to do. But if the Thunder manage to not just survive but thrive without Durant, it could go a long way toward proving Westbrook’s value to his squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: My dark horse is… Kevin Durant. I don’t see him out of the race, even if he’s going to miss the first 20 games of the season. But he’ll have 62 more games to show everybody he deserves the prize. He’s getting closer and closer to LeBron and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that when he’ll be back. If I have to pick a name different from LeBron and KD, then I’m going with Chris Paul: the Clippers have a new spirit thanks to Steve Ballmer and he can be the guy who guide them at the top of the West.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Tony Parker could win it! It can go down like the Oscars: you know, when an actor wins the award not for the movie that he just made, but for those he had done before that. If that’s the case, then Tony Parker could win the MVP trophy, one season after the spectacular things he did with the Spurs. It’ll help his cause if San Antonio will wrap up another 55+ season and finish at the top.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m going with Blake Griffin. His offensive repertoire expanded last season and with more improvement in his game this season he should be a top candidate. There’s more tricks to his game than just dunking, he’s now a legitimate post presence and has an expanding jump shot. The next evolution of his game could be a 3-point shot. Griffin attempted 44 threes last season, hitting just 27 percent of them, but it appears that he’s testing out a 3-point shot in the preseason. Last week he showed glimpses of an expanding shot from the corner, an element that will give his game and the Clippers’ offense a new dimension. Speaking of the Clippers, they’re a legitimate contender to win the West and that generally helps when the MVP is voted on.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Blake Griffin of the Clippers. He was in the running last season, and now is one of a real top candidate. His shooting skill seems like better than last season and he can score more points by jump shot from the perimeter this season. Kevin Durant’s injured and LeBron James will share the ball more than Heat era. So I think Griffin has a big chance to get MVP, if he keeps his condition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Chris Paul. I really believe the Clippers’ point guard, the best in the league, has to elevate his game this season if the Clippers are to go to the next level. Doc Rivers’ arrival changed the Clippers for better, but until Paul takes his game to a whole new level, these Clippers will continue to stumble in the poststeason. I think somewhere CP3 realises this as well. He will want to come out aggressive and leave his stamp on this season through an MVP performance.

Juan Carlos Campos, NBA Mexico: The theory would indicate that yes, LeBron James has a clear and relatively easy path to be the league’s MVP this year. With that said, I think that Stephen Curry is more than ready to take the leap into super stardom and compete hand to hand with “King” James to be named the most valuable this season. Already in the pre-season he’s shown signs of that – just ask Kobe Bryant.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: Blake Griffin. The Clippers and Cavs have the best roster and Blake has improved his game to an amazing level: he can dunk, shoot, rebound, assist … If LeBron relaxes a bit in Cleveland … the MVP goes to L.A.

Blogtable: The NBA’s best backcourt

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

> Lots of talk this preseason, little resolution: So, which team has the best backcourt in the NBA (when everybody’s healthy)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since you didn’t specify “starting” backcourt, I’m going with the team entry and saying the San Antonio Spurs. They’re the only defending-champion backcourt in the entire NBA. (That said, I’d love to hear Lance Stephenson answer this in an unguarded moment about himself and Kemba Walker. Would anticipate bravado and entertainment.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If they’re healthy and it’s June, I want Parker and Ginobili. Over the full 82 games, give me the dynamic talent, youth and sheer brashness of Curry and Thompson.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It’s really hard not to designate Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for this distinction, but there’s a good reason why Suns management and ownership caved and paid Eric Bledsoe all that money, right? The Bledsoe-Goran Dragic combo is my pick, just a couple of hard-nosed, hustling, penetrating, 3-point shooting, defensive-minded point guards sharing the same backcourt. In the 38 games they played together (Bledsoe missed 39 games with a knee injury), they had a 108.4 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and 97.4 defensive rating, plus a True Shooting percentage of 55.7.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comGolden State over (in no particular order) Washington, Toronto and Phoenix. That’s if you’re asking about starters. If that qualifier is off, Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili should be in any conversation that has to do with best tandems, and not just in the backcourt. The Warriors get the edge because not only are Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson electric scorers, but Thompson is the kind of defender that can check multiple positions and Curry has improved as a distributor to where he is dangerous with the pass as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll take Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is one of the two or three toughest matchups in the league, as one of the best shooters in the world, with the ball in his hands all the time. Thompson is another great shooter and a solid wing defender. But there are a ton of other backcourts — Brooklyn (if you count Joe Johnson as a two), Chicago, the Clippers, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, Toronto and Washington — who you could consider if you’re putting together a top-five list.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Everyone wants to claim top honors, even backcourts that have yet to play regular season minutes together. All things being equal and with each group at their best, I don’t know you could be more explosive and more dynamic than the group the Golden State Warriors can throw at you. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are two of the best shooters/scorers in the game. Adding a wild card like Shaun Livingston to this already potent mix (which also includes swingman Andre Iguodala) makes this the most dynamic crew in the game, in my opinion.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are three pairs of players that to me jump out as being above the rest, and I mean that in terms of their offense and their defense. in no particular order: Golden State (Curry and Thompson); Toronto (Lowry and DeRozan); Washington (Wall and Beal). If I had to pick one from that trio of duos, I’d probably go with Curry and Thompson, even though Curry’s defense can lapse below average. But I think Wall and Beal aren’t far behind them, and have the advantage of youth on their side.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Love the question! Reminds me of my NBA Jam years. Boomshakalaka! The best NBA back-court is the “Spash Brothers”, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The make a great duo, they play excellent together (in Golden State, in Team USA) and they make a deadly one-two punch from beyond the arc.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: The Warrriors with the ‘Splash Brothers’ Curry and Thompson are in the top right now. More points than any backcourt in the last regular season.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: Easy W for Golden State here. The Splash Brothers are too good together to be compared to other backcourts: high shooting and passing skills, very high basketball IQ, they can win the games by themselves or play with their teammates. I think the Wizards’ Wall-Beal backcourt can have a chance to get close to the Splash Brother this year, but they both have to improve their respective overall game.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The Splash Brothers! They scored more points per game than any other backcourt, had the best 3-point percentage and outscored their opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions when they were both on the floor. They can also exploit opponents in a number of ways. Curry may be the best shooter in the game and can hit all types of whacky shots off-the-dribble, his passing game seems to improve all the time and when he gets strong defensive coverage, he dishes it off to Klay. Thompson shot 41.7 percent from deep on 535 attempts and have improved as a perimeter defender, making up for some of Steph’s defensive lapses. Klay’s offensive game has expanded as well, including post-ups, slashing and even handling and penetrating. I just wish he’d pass more!

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I don’t see any reason why we should look at anyone else other than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the Golden State Warriors. Former head coach Mark Jackson already anointed them the greatest backcourt ever.  Those two guys played a big part in Team USA’s win at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the offseason as well. The ‘Splash brothers’ can light up at any time, turning an entire ballgame on its head.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors. Their shooting skill is one of the most dangerous in the league. They can shoot from every area on the court and make clutch shot.  Curry can handle the ball and Thompson can defend. Additionally, they can pass. If they played a 2-on-2 tournament, I think they’d beat all other teams.

Blogtable: Take a minute (or four)

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> What are your initial thoughts on a 44-minute game? What’s good? What’s bad? And what do you think of the chances of this ever being adopted?

Shorter quarters might do it, but what about fewer timeouts? (Alissa Hollimon/NBAE)

Shorter quarters might do it, but what about fewer timeouts? (Alissa Hollimon/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My first thought on the 44-minute game was, if the NBA sheds four minutes per game, how will MLB manage to add it to its average running time per nine innings? That’s the sport with the real too-long problem. As for this league, while I’m not persuaded that shaving four minutes of game action would matter much, I do think cutting the number of timeouts would help. Eleven-minute quarters won’t change the way teams coach or play the final two minutes, where most of the critics lob their complaints. Call me skeptical, too, that an 8.3 percent reduction would be applied across the board. To the 24-second clock? To the players’ salaries (they’d be working shorter shifts, especially bench guys)? To the owners’ TV revenue (fewer timeouts mean fewer cash-friendly commercial breaks)? And, ahem, to the ticket prices paid by fans?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m all for doing anything that will stop regulation time games from dragging on interminably past 2 1/2 hours and toward the 3-hour mark.  Frankly, I think that could be accomplished more effectively — and making the product better to view — by eliminating two timeouts per team, especially at the end of games.  If the NBA wants to make a move to shorten the overall time of play, I’d make the bigger cut to 10-minute quarters, bringing the game in line with FIBA rules so that game is uniform all over the world.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: There’s no need to go from 48 minutes to 44 minutes in the name of shortening the game. If this is really about player health, then find a way to shorten the season. If owners want the players they pay millions of dollars to each season to remain on the floor and not in the training room then they’ll accept a few less home gates for the good of their players and the game. There are too many back-to-backs, too many stretches of four games in five nights when it is really unnecessary. Not only does it put players at great risk of injury, it diminishes the product. In short, don’t shorten the game, shorten the season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Will teams be cutting ticket prices the same percentage on nights the clock is reduced? Otherwise, I’m not moved either way. On the overall list of things of issues worth a strong stand, I’d put it just in front of advertising on uniforms. There’s nothing wrong with giving a look during one or a few exhibition games or taking a test drive through the D-League a few times. That’s a long way from the NBA making the change during its own regular season. I don’t think it happens soon, if at all.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It would make games shorter and reduce injuries over the course of the season, but would also reduce the value of players 6-15 on every roster. I think the Players Association would have a problem with that. To reduce the time of games, I’d leave them at 48 minutes, reduce the number of timeouts (as they have in the 44-minute scenario) and adopt the FIBA rule that timeouts can only be called on dead balls or after a made basket. And to reduce injures, wear and tear and back-to-backs, I’d go to a 72-game season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After watching game after game during the FIBA World Cup (where the games are just 40 minutes long) I gained a new appreciation for the 48-minute NBA game. This 44-minute experiment splits the difference. I’m not sure there is a discernible good or bad to identify in this experimental game until I actually see the game played on the 19th. Whatever the reasons are for messing with this, and I’m sure the competition committee has plenty, I don’t know that it will dramatically impact the game the way people think in the short term. The chance of this being adopted anytime soon would appear to be slim. But if they are experimenting in exhibition games, it’s at least on the radar.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Initially, I like the concept of NBA games taking less time to play. But I really don’t like the idea of playing shorter games, particularly when you’re shortening game times by all of four minutes. What bothers me is that NBA games have always been 48 minutes long, which makes comparing stats across decades so easy to do — you always know that someone averaged however many points or rebounds per game in a 48 minute game. If the NBA is really serious about shortening game times, it’s very simple: Have fewer timeouts, fewer commercial breaks, and enforce the actual timeout lengths. Losing a minute of actual game time seems like cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m for these types of changes being trialed during the preseason, there’s no better format for it to take place but I don’t think I want it introduced. Fewer timeouts is probably a positive but I’m not for it actually coming in. Does the NBA need to be closer to the length of a college game or an international game? How long would it take for coaches to adapt tactically to the changes? Credit to Adam Silver for actively looking to try new things and deliver on proposals he has brought up but I’m not so sure this will ever come into fruition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I’m not a fan of the suggestion to be honest.  I can see the positives that come with it, namely fewer minutes per game translate into shorter playing time, which would in some way reduce the workload for players in what is a long NBA season. Also, I see this as the NBA willing to bridge the gap towards FIBA’s playing time which stands at 40 minutes. However, the not-so-good part is that fewer minutes may not necessarily translate into more rest time for key players. Instead, reserve players might see their minutes drop. And then there is the whole stats issue — how do you make comparisons between players who play 44 minutes against those who played 48 minutes? I wouldn’t know the chances of something like this being adopted, but I hope this never comes to pass.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: This is very interesting. I love NBA’s such unique and flexible idea. If the system is adopted, reducing many top players’ playing time, and they may show higher quality play. But the NBA’s 48-minute game has a long history: the 48-minute frame is not too long and not too short. So I think the game time format should not change. If the NBA wants to adopt short game time anyway, I’d rather it be the 40-minute length, like the FIBA game.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: It’s great to see the NBA taking care of issues and making experiments to solve what is perceived as a problem. But I don’t see a 44-minute game happening for real. Regular season games aren’t too long. Playoffs games are, but not in terms of playing time. Fans want less ads when watching a game on TV, not less time of their favorite star on the court. Plus, a 48-minute game is part of what makes the NBA different from FIBA basketball and its 40-minute game.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I am not a big fan of changes, despite the fact that after some years I often admit that they were for the best. The 44-minute idea is very close to the FIBA playing time (40 minutes) and the plus-8 minutes was something that always held the two worlds apart, in a more distinguished way than the Atlantic ocean. Now the trend goes somethink like “less is more,” but I don’t like that minimal aspect when we are talking about the NBA. We want more!

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain : The players will be happy about the rest, but worried about the stats. Less minutes, less points. My thoughts are they are going to have to find a way to make the game faster without reducing the total time of play.

Pacers need Hill to attack leading role

DALLAS – It remains a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, yet it could have been just a bit awkward for Indiana Pacers guard George Hill to watch his old team pulverize the one team his never could, and then see the player he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, celebrated as the Finals MVP.

Hill, however, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kawhi is a good friend of mine,” Hill said Sunday as the Pacers’ preseason trek brought them to Dallas. “I’m happy for his success. I’m happy for the Spurs’ success. If we’re not winning, you know, I root for them. I’m still good friends with everyone in that organization and with everyone on that team. All of them are like my brothers.”

Which is as good a segue as any when talking about these Pacers, because they’re using training camp to try to bond like brothers following a summer — and really starting from the second half of last season — of tumult. Shooting guard and the NBA’s surprising triple-double leader, Lance Stephenson, departed for Charlotte as a free agent. All-Star forward Paul George, the emerging star who allowed the Pacers to deal Leonard for point guard help in 2011, emotionally shook the franchise, and the league, when he broke his leg during the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas.

And just like that, the Pacers are a much different team, and one that will be asking Hill to bring a much different game than he really ever has, either with the Spurs where he was mostly a reserve surrounded by the Big Three, or in Indiana, where its two no-longer-available wings were so often the point of attack.

“He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot.  So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”

Vogel compared it back to when Hill first arrived.

“Before Danny Granger got hurt and Paul George and Lance Stephenson exploded, our go-to guys were David West and George Hill, and it’s just going to return to that,” Vogel said. “And they did that on a team that in the lockout season won at a 50-win pace as the two late-game go-to guys.”

That team turned a 37-45 record in 2010-11 to 42-24 with Hill backing up Darren Collison before taking over as the starter late in the season. The Pacers advanced to the East semifinals. And maybe they can again this season in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

The reorganizing Heat and Pacers have been replaced by LeBron James‘ new team, the Cavaliers, and the Bulls as conference favorites. Washington, Toronto, Brooklyn and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets could all make some noise.

“Defense wins games, so as long as we continue to play defense the right way, I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to use our defense as our offense.”

Even so, there’s little doubt that Hill will need to boost his scoring and playmaking for the Pacers not to drop to the lower rungs of the playoff chase. Hill averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists while logging 32 minutes a game last season. He shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. He ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

“Obviously he’s going to have to play a bigger role for us. He’s got to be aggressive,” West said. “It’s going to be a different role and adjustment for him, but he’s going to work himself into it, get comfortable with it. The last couple of years we’ve attacked from the wings. He’s going to have to be the point of attack for us, to really look to take his game to another level.”

‘Jones fracture’ can be tricky, but odds are Durant heals just fine


VIDEO: OKC GM Sam Presti says it’s impossible to replace Durant

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The “Jones fracture” Kevin Durant sustained to his right foot is hardly unique to basketball players. However the bone in question — the fifth metatarsal — is unique, which is why pinpointing Durant’s return, plus potential complications, is met by sports medicine professionals with a certain level of caution.

“We don’t worry about this if it was, for example, the bone to the middle toe, because 100 percent of the time those heal. You never have the remote chance of nonunion when you’re considering the third or fourth metatarsals,” said renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. T.O. Souryal, the Dallas Mavericks team physician and president of the NBA Team Physicians Association. “The fifth [metatarsal] is very unique and it’s unique because there are tendons that attach there that are constantly pulling in the opposite direction that you want the healing to take place. None of the other metatarsal bones have that stress on them. Because of the mechanics, because of the blood supply, there is that little shadow of uncertainty.

“Those of us who do sports medicine on a regular basis have a tremendous respect for Jones fracture because it looks relatively innocuous, and 95 percent of them heal uneventfully, relatively quickly. But there are a few tricky ones that don’t heal uneventfully and don’t heal very quickly.”

Thunder general manager Sam Presti said on Sunday that Durant will likely undergo surgery, and he estimated the NBA’s reigning MVP will be sidelined six to eight weeks. Souryal said surgery is the most common treatment for athletes with a “Jones fracture,” and that Presti’s timeframe is on target for this type of injury.

The fifth metatarsal bone is the long bone on the outside of the foot that connects to the little toe. A “Jones fracture” occurs toward the back end of the bone in an area that receives less blood and therefore can be more prone to difficulties in healing. For most athletes, the “Jones fracture” is caused by overuse, repetitive stress or trauma. Presti said Durant alerted the Thunder’s medical staff to discomfort in his foot following Saturday’s practice.

Because of the tricky nature of the bone, Souryal said the actual time an athlete misses can vary, sometimes healing before the six-week timetable, but also sometimes taking longer than eight weeks.

“There are some [Jones fractures] that heal in four to five weeks, absolutely, but there are some that take three, four months,” Souryal said. “And it’s difficult to tell which is which in the beginning. It’s just difficult to tell. As a result, we all have a healthy respect for this injury. In Oklahoma City, they have an excellent medical staff and I will give them tremendous credit for making the diagnosis early, and I am sure that they are in deliberations right now trying to decide what is the best course of action.”

Once the bone heals, Souryal said it will be as good as new. That’s not a guarantee that Durant can’t re-injure the foot, but odds are in his favor that he will continue on with his career with no further difficulties.

Mavs fans remember up-and-coming guard Rodrigue Beaubois, who fractured the same bone while working out with the French national team several summers ago. Beaubois underwent surgery and was on the comeback trail, but he re-fractured the bone during a workout as his return date neared and missed another significant chunk of time.

“He was one of the few percentages that did not heal fully and re-broke,” Souryal said.

The fact that basketball players are constantly running and jumping, the factors that likely led to Durant’s injury in the first place, means there is always a risk of re-injury. However, most athletes returning from the fracture, Souryal said, do not experience a setback.

“The positive spin is that the vast majority heal this fracture uneventfully and come back on time,” Souryal said. “It’s only those tricky ones, those few percentage points, that don’t. So if you play the odds, I think six to eight weeks is exactly right.”

‘Chubbygate’ ends with chuckle in Dallas


VIDEO: Parsons says he’s pleased that coach Rick Carlisle apologized for his comments

DALLAS – When Mark Cuban was asked to weigh in on what has become a sensitive issue around here, the Dallas Mavericks owner peered down from his step machine, sweat beading on his forehead and said: “I have to talk about Chubbygate?”

The hubbub started in the early stages of training camp when Mavs coach Rick Carlisle called out prized new acquisition Chandler Parsons for being out of shape. Carlisle suggested that Chandler was a bit too paunchy around the mid-section.

It’s quite the accusation against a heartthrob and bona fide blue-jeans model.

The 6-foot-9 small forward has said he wanted to bulk up some above the waist to help him better guard power forwards when needed. Still, Carlisle shoved on with his ill-fated motivational tactic following Friday night’s preseason game.

“An increase of 18 to 20 pounds is just too much,” Carlisle said. “We talked about it today. We talk about it a lot. He’ll get there, but he looked tired out there and a little heavy-legged, and the extra seven or eight pounds aren’t helping.

“I don’t mean to call him out in public or ridicule him, but it’s just a fact. He’s an important guy for us. We just need him to get to his right conditioning and weight level so he can play his best because we’re going to need him to play a lot of minutes over the course of 82 games.”

Chandler, who signed a $46 million offer sheet from the Mavs in July and officially joined the franchise when the Houston Rockets decided not to match, wasn’t appreciative of such motivation. He could have just rolled his eyes understanding that in years past Carlisle had called out Lamar Odom a few seasons ago and Samuel Dalembert last season.

Of course, neither of those players had instantaneously become the franchise’s second-highest-paid player in a very public courting, and is arguably the Mavs’ most important player for title contention.

Over the weekend, Chandler wanted the world to see just how “overweight” he is, so he snapped a shot of his bare washboard torso while standing on a balcony of a Dallas high-rise and posted it on Instagram. It made the social media rounds, quickly. A lot of people took notice, including, Carlisle said, his wife and daughter.

“I received my punishment,” Carlisle said. “My wife and daughter became full-time Chandler Parsons Twitter and Instagram followers.”

At that point, Carlisle must have felt he was seeing a different body image than everybody else, so he felt compelled to apologize? Carlisle issued a statement Sunday prior to the Mavs’ preseason game against Indiana:

“It was unfair and inappropriate to single out Chandler Parsons after the game Friday night. I have apologized to him and the entire team for this error in judgment. Not only is Chandler Parsons one of our best players, he is also one of our hardest working players and the kind of high-character person we strive to bring to our city and franchise.

I also made it clear to our players and staff this morning that this type of bad example is not acceptable and beneath the dignity of a championship organization like the Dallas Mavericks.”

Well then.

The apology was well-received by Parsons.

“It just shows what kind of guy he is,” Parsons said after Sunday’s game. “We’re in this together. Everybody makes mistakes and he came to me as a man. We have a great relationship. It’s in the past, and we’re going to move forward. It’s over with.”

Thank goodness.

But was Carlisle really wrong for publicly airing his concerns? Or was it bad judgement to take such a tact? Was Parsons, 25, just overly sensitive? And either way, was an apology of such conviction truly warranted from one of the league’s most successful coaches?

Cuban, known at times to fuel his own headlines by speaking out to the media, called “Chubbygate” a non-event and said he doesn’t know if it was necessary for Carlisle to apologize. But, he’s glad Carlisle did.

“Rick’s smart,” Cuban said. “When he feels like somebody’s sensitive about something or he touched a nerve, he deals with it. He doesn’t run away from it. He doesn’t pretend it didn’t happen. It was no big deal. It’s a non-event.”

We now return your regularly scheduled programming.

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.