Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Teague’

Hang Time One-On-One … With Al Horford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Al Horford‘s season came to an abrupt end on Dec. 26 when he reached for the ball and tore his right pectoral muscle, the second such injury in three seasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ two-time All-Star center.

Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in 2012 and missed four months recovering from that injury, coming back in the playoffs that season but missing all but 11 regular season games during the 2011-12 season. But the heat and soul of the Hawks’ franchise will not let this latest injury setback deter him. He’s vowed to return better than ever while continuing to serve as an influential voice and presence for his team during his recovery.

Just so we’re clear on the impact Horford had on the Hawks this season, his first playing alongside someone other than Josh Smith (now in Detroit) in the frontcourt, you need to consider what sort of company he was in as the Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder.

At the time of his injury Horford was one of just six players – LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings were the others — leading his team in points and rebounds.

Now Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and guys like Elton Brand and Pero Antic are left to help fill the massive void left by Horford’s absence for a Hawks team that has overachieved this season.

Interestingly enough, those are the same guys Horford expressed extreme confidence in when I sat down with him before his injury for the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series …



VIDEO: Al Horford opens up about his Hawks, his city, his journey and much more in this HT One-On-One

With Horford, Hawks Were Most Improved This Month


VIDEO: NBA Action: One-on-One with Al Horford

The List

Most improved teams, NetRtg, Oct-November to December

Team Oct.-Nov. Rank December Rank Diff.
Atlanta -1.1 16 +8.1 2 9.2
Brooklyn -6.9 27 +0.7 11 7.7
Cleveland -8.8 28 -2.5 21 6.4
Milwaukee -11.1 29 -5.7 26 5.3
Oklahoma City +6.0 5 +11.3 1 5.3

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Context

This would be an encouraging stat for three of the five teams on the list had they not lost All-Stars to serious injuries during the course of the month. Brooklyn lost Brook Lopez for the season as it was playing its best offense of the season, Atlanta lost Al Horford indefinitely as it was beginning to pick up some steam, and Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook until after the All-Star break as it was establishing itself as the best team in the league.

The Hawks are just 7-4 in December, but have the league’s second-best point differential in the month, mostly because they beat the the Cavs, Lakers, Kings and Jazz by an average of 20.8 points. But they do have a win over the Clippers and had a huge offensive game in Miami.

Atlanta’s improvement has been all about the offense. They’ve scored 9.6 more points per 100 possessions in December (110.6) than they did in October and November (101.0). They’ve played some bad defensive teams this month, but they’ve scored more points per 100 possessions than their opponent’s season average in eight of their 11 games.

The biggest difference in the Hawks’ offense has been 3-point shooting. Not only have they been shooting 3s better, but they’ve been shooting them more often.

Hawks 3-point shooting

Month 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank
Oct-November 138 390 35.4% 16 27.0% 11
December 126 302 41.7% 1 31.3% 2

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

A healthy Lou Williams has given Atlanta an additional threat from long range, but Paul Millsap has also been a big part of the improvement. Millsap shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range in that overtime loss to the Heat, and 27 percent of his shots in December have been 3s , up from 13 percent in October and November.

Millsap is shooting 46 percent from downtown, so he should keep launching them if he can. Horford’s absence will put more of the defensive focus on Millsap, but thus far, Millsap has actually taken a greater percentage of his shots from 3-point range with Horford off the floor (33/116) than he has with Horford on the floor (37/252).

Overall, the Hawks have actually been a slightly better offensive team (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions vs. 104.4) with Horford off the floor, but they’ve been much worse defensively (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.7). Basically, they’re a top-10 defensive team with Horford and a bottom-five defensive team without him.

While their offense has been the reason for their improvement, they wouldn’t have the third best record in the East without a solid defense. And now, they will likely struggle to get stops consistently.

Brooklyn is in a similar situation. Their improvement is mostly about their offense, which received a huge boost when Deron Williams returned from his ankle injury and has scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions in the nine games he’s played in December. But they’ve been much better defensively with Lopez on the floor and aren’t likely to climb out the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency without him.

The Video

Here are Millsap’s 10 3-point attempts against the Heat on Dec. 23, here are Jeff Teague‘s 15 assists against the Kings on Dec. 18, and here’s Teague’s game-winner in Cleveland on Thursday.

The bottom of the list

The Spurs have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse in December than they were in October and November. The drop-off has come on defense, where they rank 17th this month after ranking second through Nov. 30.

The Pacers still rank No. 1 defensively, but have fallen off quite a bit on that end as well. Maybe they just set too high a standard in the first month, because they’ve allowed 11.1 more points per 100 possessions in December. They’ve improved offensively (+4.0), but their NetRtg difference of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions has them 29th on the list.

Above the Pacers are the Sixers (minus-7.0), the Rockets (minus-6.8) and Lakers (minus-4.9).

Kobe, Lakers Still Need Plenty Of Work




VIDEO: The Lakers cannot find the mark and get worked by the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You don’t need a CSI kit to figure out that these aren’t the Los Angeles Lakers of old. They look more like the old beat up Lakers right now, a team totally incapable of mustering enough healthy bodies, energy or effort to fight off an elite team, let alone a decent team like the Atlanta Hawks.

The mirage that has been the Lakers’ season thus far, with and without Kobe Bryant, is coming into focus now and it’s not nearly as inspiring as it might have seemed as recently as three weeks ago, when Mike D’Antoni was pushing buttons on a feisty crew of underdogs, yes underdogs, as they awaited Kobe’s return from Achilles surgery and the months of rehab that followed.

These Lakers aren’t big enough, strong enough and don’t have enough of the star power they are used to (at least not healthy) to even utter the words “championship contender” right now. And it was all on display Monday night at Philips Arena, when the Hawks pawed at a listless and defenseless Lakers team early and then slapped them around after halftime before finishing with a season-high 114 points in the win.

They need work, and plenty of it, before anyone starts talking about them being anything but what they are at this moment, and that’s a flawed crew on the far side of the playoff bubble in the rugged Western Conference.

“That’s you guys talking about June,” D’Antoni said. “Right now we’re just trying to win a game.”

When Elton Brand swats three shots, before halftime mind you, as the Hawks’ frontcourt crew of Al Horford (19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists), Paul Millsap (18, nine and four steals) and Brand (eight points and seven rebounds to go along with his blocks) stalemate your frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill the way they did, it makes Kobe’s and hence the Lakers’ struggles understandable.

Sure, Bryant shot just 4-for-14 from the floor, turned the ball over way too much (five) and didn’t make up for it with another double-digit assist night, not with the Hawks’ energetic DeMarre Carroll doing his best Raja Bell impersonation for much of the night. But it’s also clear that he doesn’t have the sort of help that will allow him to work his way through these tough nights as he gets his body back into the type of shape he’s used to. He’s playing out of position at point guard, while Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all nurse injuries.

The Hawks didn’t have to say it but it was obvious, with Kobe as their point guard the Lakers are much easier to figure out than when he’s in his normal role at shooting guard. Kobe cannot take advantage of defenders in the post and work them around screens when he’s running the show, when he’s responsible for making sure Gasol, Hill, Jodie Meeks and others get into the flow of games.

“They were picking Kobe up full court and making him work,” D’Antoni said, “so we didn’t create any motion or movement or energy for ourselves. we have to make sure we continue to get motion.”

Bryant will be back at the controls Tuesday night in Memphis. He’ll have to drag his tired body back out on the floor on just a few hours’ rest and then chase Mike Conley around as best he can.

“The back-to-backs are always tough,” Bryant said. “I just have to get ready, I have to do whatever is necessary to get ready for the next night and get right back out there.”

That’s much easier said than done when your body betrays your natural instincts and the things you have conditioned it to do the past two decades. As Bryant admitted, this is a new process for him, trying to find his way back to normal from his injury. It’s not like anything he has dealt with before.

“Every night is like a different puzzle,” Bryant said. “So every night you have to try and problem solve.”

He also has to take mental notes of his own, as he’s learning what does and does not work for him on this journey back to the Kobe Bean Bryant everyone is used to seeing.

“It’s tough to say,” he said, “because there are certain things I feel like I can do and there are other things I can’t do, but I feel like they are coming. You have to be patient and keep your eye on the big picture and continue to work and get stronger.”

Kobe’s foot and ankle were immobile for so long that there is still some physical discomfort that he’ll have to endure until those issues dissipate.

“The next level of progression is playing these games when you sit back out, get back in, is keeping it loose,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. You increase the activity, the ankle gets used to it a little more.

“I’ve just got to keep my eye on the big picture and focus on getting better.”

That’s also why he’s not ready to panic about the Lakers’ 11-13 record nine days before Christmas. This is not the same train ride the Lakers were on last year, when D’Antoni, Gasol, Dwight Howard, Nash and Bryant couldn’t steer clear of the mess as they careened on and off the tracks nearly all season long.

Any rumblings about the Lakers’ front office pressing the reset button and making a trade to shake things up are things Kobe does not plan on worrying  about right now.

“That call is completely up to them (the front office),” he said of making a call on any potential moves that could be made. “As a player, you rely on experience and the years that we’ve had slow starts. I just try to stay focused on that. Last year, it was really, really dire straits. And this doesn’t feel like this is that type of situation. You know, I don’t really sweat it too much. There are certain things we can correct and fix and a lot of it starts with me and getting healthy. And I’ll get there. And I’ll be able to control things a lot more. But I don’t really trip over it much. As players we’ve got to stay focused on what we do, and management obviously has to do the same thing on their end.”

In the meantime, the Lakers would be wise to keep their heads down, keep working and pray for some good fortune on the health front. Who knows what else the next few weeks might bring?

Belinelli, Most Improved Shooter

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

The List

Biggest improvement, effective field-goal percentage

2012-13 2013-14
Player FGA eFG% FGA eFG% Diff.
Marco Belinelli 610 46.0% 140 63.6% 17.6%
Michael Beasley 766 43.4% 119 58.4% 15.0%
Andre Iguodala 879 50.2% 110 65.0% 14.8%
Jodie Meeks 530 50.2% 198 61.9% 11.7%
Wesley Matthews 808 54.0% 238 64.9% 10.9%
Tony Allen 638 44.8% 128 55.1% 10.3%
Jeremy Lin 897 49.0% 155 57.7% 8.7%
Spencer Hawes 811 48.3% 236 57.0% 8.7%
Markieff Morris 653 44.2% 196 52.0% 7.9%
Klay Thompson 1,205 50.9% 352 58.7% 7.8%

Minimum 500 FGA in 2012-13 and 100 FGA in 2013-14
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

It’s interesting how a different team can make a player better. The top two guys on this list went from bottom-10 offensive teams last season to top-10 offensive teams this season. Marco Belinelli went from the Rose-less Bulls to the Spurs, while Michael Beasley went from the Suns to the Heat. Andre Iguodala was part of a top-five offense last season, but the Warriors certainly space the floor a lot better than the Nuggets did.

Speaking of floor spacing, Belinelli is shooting a ridiculous 30-for-53 (57 percent) from 3-point range after going 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s win in Toronto. He’s also shooting 51 percent from inside the arc.

Is it a product of the system? Do Tony Parker‘s pick-and-roll brilliance and the Spurs’ ball movement produce more open shots for Belinelli?

First of all, only 54 of Belinelli’s 140 shots have come with Parker on the floor. He actually has shot better with Parker on the bench. He’s played more minutes with Patty Mills as his point guard and has been assisted 22 times by Manu Ginobili. Mills’ improvement, Ginobili’s resurrection and Belinelli’s shooting are big reasons why the Spurs are 16-4 despite an underperforming starting lineup.

According to SportVU, 61 percent of Belinelli’s shots have been uncontested* this season, a jump from 56 percent last season. But the jump is all in his 2-point attempts. In the 20 Bulls games that were tracked by SportVU last season, none of Belinelli’s 47 2-point attempts were uncontested. This season, 42 of his 87 2-point attempts have been uncontested.

*Uncontested: The nearest defender is at least four feet away.

Both years, most of his 3-point attempts (87 percent last season and 83 percent this season) have been uncontested. But he’s shooting them much better with the Spurs. He’s also 6-for-9 on contested threes this year.

So it’s very possible that this is just a fluky start to the season for Belinelli. Or maybe there’s something in the Riverwalk water.

There is one more aspect to Belinelli’s shooting that SportVU can clue us in on: whether he’s shooting more off the catch or off the dribble.

In games tracked by SportVU last season, 60 percent of Belinelli’s shots were catch-and-shoot. This season, that number is up to 75 percent. But again, he’s shooting much better on those catch-and-shoot jumpers this year.

While the Spurs run the most beautiful offense in the league and that offense certainly makes players look better than they would elsewhere, it’s hard to believe that Belinelli’s shooting numbers are very sustainable.

The Video

Here’s video of Belinelli’s six 3-point attempts against the Rockets on Nov. 30. One was a half-court heave, three were wide-open looks on feeds from Ginobili, one was a semi-heat-check, and the last was a rushed shot with the Spurs down four in the closing seconds. If you’re a Spurs fan, you have to love the way Ginobili has been playing.

And if you really like your meatballs spicy, here are all 30 of Belinelli’s made 3-pointers this season.

The bottom of the list

Kosta Koufos is the anti-Belinelli, with a regression of 13.6 percent. That mark edges out Kevin Garnett (-12.7 percent), Jerryd Bayless (-11.4 percent), Patrick Patterson (-10.6 percent) and Tyreke Evans (-9.4 percent). Koufos had an effective field-goal percentage of 58.1 percent on 508 shots with Denver last season and is at 44.5 percent on 146 shots with Memphis this season.

Trivia question

To qualify for the above list, you had to have attempted at least 500 shots last season. There are five players who had at least 500 field-goal attempts last season and have not played a game this season. Four of them are on rosters and are injured: Carlos Delfino, Danilo Gallinari, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. Can you name the fifth?

Random notes

  • Chris Paul has 84 assists to Blake Griffin this season and no other combination has nearly that number. Next on the list of teammate-to-teammate assists is Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who have hooked up for 62 of Horford’s buckets.
  • Paul, Griffin and the Clippers have the No. 1 home offense, scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 10 home games. But they have just the 17th best road offense, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 12 road games. Their differential of 10.3 isn’t the biggest in the league. That belongs to the Mavs, who have scored 10.9 more points per 100 possessions at home than they have on the road.
  • The biggest defensive differential belongs to the Rockets, who have allowed 14.9 fewer points per 100 possessions at home. Houston ranks third defensively at home and 28th on the road. The good news is that they have the No. 1 road offense.
  • Deron Williams returned to the Nets’ lineup against Boston on Tuesday and Brooklyn played its best offensive game of the season, scoring about 116 points per 100 possessions against what was a top-10 defense. Point guards are important.

Trivia answer

Shannon Brown, who attempted 571 shots for the Suns last season. He was sent to the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and was waived before the season.

Thunder Playing With Edge Few Can Match




VIDEO: Durant, Westbrook power Thunder past Hawks

ATLANTA – All of the wonder that used to accompany the Oklahoma City Thunder has been replaced with furrowed brows, shoulder shrugs and a wicked focus from the previously precious Western Conference party crashers.

They still dance after dunks and holster their shooting hands after a 3-pointer every now and then. But the mood is much different. The fun and games are over for the Thunder. Last season’s playoff failures, piggybacked on the failure to capitalize on home-court advantage in The Finals in 2011, have hardened this group.

“They’re playing for respect,” is the way one keen observer put it to me in a hallway at Philips Arena late Tuesday night after the Thunder finished thumping a game Atlanta Hawks team. “They went from No. 1 [in the Western Conference] to the backburner after Russell [Westbrook] got hurt last year against Houston. They didn’t forget how that felt. And they are taking it out on people now.”

It shows, particularly in Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the catalysts for this Thunder team. They carry an edge that few teams in the league can match right now. It’s the same edge they played with on their way up, when they took their lumps in successive years trying to reach the top of the Western Conference.

There is a physical edge to this group that was not there previously, one that was on full display against a Hawks team that hasn’t been pushed around much by anyone this season.

Westbrook chased a triple-double (14 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds) on a night when he couldn’t make a shot early and finished 6-for-21 from the floor. Durant shredded the Hawks for his usual 30 points, but was just as lethal on the other end, finishing with 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.

A much-improved Serge Ibaka added 19 points, 10 rebounds (his 10th double-double this season) and two swats, serving as a roadblock around the basket and neutralizing the Hawks’ Al Horford for most of the night.

During a late Hawks run, while both Durant and Westbrook were on the bench watching the reserves try to hold the lead, they were summoned back into the game. Durant swatted away shots on back-to-back possessions to help end whatever threat that was brewing from a Hawks team that dismantled the Los Angeles Clippers in Atlanta last week.

What Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan couldn’t do against a steady and disciplined Hawks team the Thunder did at will. They controlled the action and their stars were able to outwork their Hawks counterparts when it mattered most. The Thunder held the Hawks to just 36 percent shooting, an impressive feat for a team noted more for their explosive offensive abilities than for the intense defensive pressure.

“Any time you hold an NBA team in the thirties in shooting percentage,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “you’re doing a good job defensively.”

Anytime you have talented players like Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and that bunch locked in and focused on both ends the way they are now, you can do what you want against just about anybody. The Thunder’s 11 wins in their last 12 games, including a pasting of the Indiana Pacers over the weekend, is proof.

The way they finished off the Hawks was just a subtle reminder to the rest of the league that they will not let up, no matter the time, place or circumstance. Before the Hawks trimmed that lead to 95-92 late in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had cranked things up and led by 13 with just under seven minutes to play.

“(The Hawks) revved up their intensity on the defensive end and when we went on that [fourth quarter] run we matched their intensity. We were able to take that punch and give a bigger punch back,” Durant said. “We played well defensively and took some good shots. We had the game up to 14 or 15 twice, and we let them back in the game. They are tough to guard. They have shooters, and they have guys who roll to the rim and finish, but we did a good job of covering everything. We just always tell each other ‘weather the storm,’ no matter what. If they close the lead or if we’re down 20, just weather the storm and keep working and keep pressing. We took it a possession at a time, and when they cut it to three, we were able to just settle down and get stops and make shots as well.”

They did whatever needed to be done. And they did it with an edge. It makes you wonder — who will match that this season?


VIDEO: OKC guard Jeremy Lamb talks about his play vs. Atlanta

Doc, CP3 Praise Hawks’ Teague




VIDEO: Hawks point guard Jeff Teague is off to a fantastic start this season

ATLANTA – Chris Paul is used to showing up at arenas on the road and dealing with the challenge of being the measuring stick for opposing point guards. It’s been that way for some time for the Los Angeles Clippers’ star.

That said, it’s always a special challenge facing his good friend, protegé and fellow Wake Forest alum, Jeff Teague. Teague’s splendid work this season has helped propel the Atlanta Hawks into the top half of the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference up to this point at least.

Tonight’s Clippers-Hawks matchup at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) provides one of two regular-season opportunities for Teague to see where he stands.

Paul has always been in a different point-guard stratosphere, but might Teague be closing that gap, albeit slightly, this season? Both Paul and Clippers coach Doc Rivers , who acknowledged the challenge both players will face tonight after the Clippers’ Wednesday morning shootaround, believe so.

“Guarding Chris Paul every night is going to be very hard, as is guarding Jeff Teague every night,” Rivers said. “They’re a little bit different in what they do and the way they play. And Teague, over the last two years, I don’t know of any guard that has improved more. I mean, he’s really become a heck of a basketball player.”

Teague is shattering his career numbers of 9.5 points and 4.3 assists this season with career-bests in points (17.4), assists (8.1) and rebounds (2.8). He is also a legitimate contender for one of the guard spots on the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season, thanks to a door being opened by injuries to other stars along with his improved play.

“Man, [he has improved] a lot,” Paul said. “I think JT is so much more aggressive now than he ever was. And that comes with confidence, which he should have. The team made some moves and freed him up to play with the freedom so he knows he’s the guy. And he’s been hooping all season long.”

We’ll see if he can keep it up tonight, at Paul’s expense.

Blogtable: Best Point Guard In The East?

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


Who is the East’s best PG? | Your advice for Chicago? | Thoughts on Kobe’s extension?


With Derrick Rose out and Rajon Rondo still mending, who is the best point guard in the East?


VIDEO: Inside Stuff takes a closer look at John Wall’s play and growth

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: George Hill and Mario Chalmers have helped steer their teams to the best records. John Wall has taken Rondo’s customary spot as East assists leader and tops his peer group in efficiency. Deron Williams has been hurt. Jeff Teague has been solid, has an experience edge over many of these guys, is durable and plays most like the point guards I prefer … but this comes down to a one-game, one-season, one-career test for me. If I were drafting an East point guard for any of those three situations, I’d still grab Kyrie Irving. He is far from a finished product but has the talent and potential to be best of the bunch.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It should be Deron Williams. But he’s got recurring problems with his ankle and his head and until he gets the latter on straight, the Nets are going to be the biggest underperforming disappointment in the East. While it may certainly be tempting to pick the rookie Michael Carter-Williams — and the long haul could prove that to be a good choice — I’ve got to go with John Wall.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Is LeBron an acceptable answer? As impressive as what the rookie in Philly is doing, Michael Carter-Williams is still a rookie. This has got to be John Wall. He’s really become the man of late as the East player of the week now has three consecutive 30-point games.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: John Wall-Kyrie Irving is a push at the moment. That could change on a season-long basis, and probably will. And it would be foolish to completely discount the possibility that Deron Williams finds his way and puts together a streak as a reminder of his talents too often tucked away. But it’s Wall and Irving for now. Neither is shooting well, but both have the ability to lead playoff clubs. Irving is an All-Star and look at the difference in the Wizards last season once Wall returned. Now if we could only get Wall and Bradley Beal on the floor at the same time. That would be a backcourt to watch.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:With Deron Williams on the shelf too, you’d think the easy answer would be Kyrie Irving. And he would have been my answer before the season started. But Irving and the Cavs are off to a disappointing start and his defense is still a major question. Meanwhile, a couple of guys who got paid this summer – Jeff Teague and John Wall – have taken big steps forward. Teague is the better defender, but Wall’s explosiveness offensively gives him the edge. Did I just say that Wall is better than Irving? I think I did.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is an excellent tug of war between two surprise players and neither one of them is named Kyrie Irving. The Wizards’ John Wall and the Hawks’ Jeff Teague have both been pretty damn good this season. Teague is proving to be an improved decision-maker and floor general in the system of new Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, who made it clear during the preseason that he felt Teague would improve this season. Wall and Teague’s numbers are nearly identical in all of the categories that translate to doing their job well. Wall has the edge in physical tools and ceiling, and he seems to be putting things together as a young leader on and off the court as well. Irving is still the young point guard in the East with the greatest upside, but if we’re talking about right now, as of this moment, I’m going with Wall in a photo finish over Teague.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Does LeBron count as a point guard? Jokes aside, there are only four point guards in the East averaging more assists per game than LeBron: John Wall, Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings and Michael Carter-Williams. And to me the best all-around point guard in the East this season has been Wall. He’s averaging 18.6 ppg to go with 8.9 assists per, and he’s a true game-changer offensively — of the point guards I mentioned, to me Wall is the most dynamic of the bunch. With Bradley Beal out for at least a few weeks, it will be interesting to see if Wall can take on more of a scoring load for the Wizards as they try to turn things around. But so far Wall has made that big contract extension he inked this summer look like a good deal for the Wizards.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The path is clear in the East for one of the young guns to ascend to the top. In recent form, John Wall has been the one making his stake as the best PG in the East, but over in Cleveland, Kyrie Irving has the talent to challenge him for the number one spot. But don’t forget about Deron Williams: a few years ago, he was in conversation amongst the top PGs in the league. If he can rediscover his form and health, he has the skillset to start dominating again.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: John Wall, and in my mind it’s no contest. Jeff Teague is playing terrific and the Hawks are doing okay. But Wall is great, elite even with his combination of athleticism, speed and court vision. He can score, pass, is a respectable defender and helps his team win. Right now, it’s tough to make the same argument for Kyrie and the Cavaliers.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Wow, that’s a tough one. Seems like all the great ones are out West, huh? Paul, Parker, Westbrook, Curry, Lawson, Rubio, Lillard. My favorite point guard in the East besides Rose and Rondo would be Kyrie Irving, but he does share some of the burden for Cleveland’s lousy start. Right now, John Wall has been playing like the best point guard in the East. He is the answer right now. Michael Carter-Williams has star potential, but is still raw.

Moment Has Passed For Smith, Hawks




VIDEO: Josh Smith talks about the surreal feeling of his first trip home as a Detroit Piston

ATLANTA – Wednesday night was supposed to be his moment, the first time homegrown star Josh Smith walked into Philips Arena as a member of the “other” team.

His first steps down that hallway he’d walked so many times was supposed to be cathartic, a chance for Smith to finally put his near-decade with the Hawks behind him. It was also a chance for the fans who endured that roller coaster ride from the impetuous, sky-walking teenage J-Smoove to the matured husband, father and veteran that is today’s Smith to either pay their last respects or bid him farewell in a not-so-special way.

The hype was better than the actual event itself. Smith was introduced to an equal smattering of cheers and boos, which is pretty much the way he was greeted throughout his tenure here. Few players in my years covering the league have inspired such a spirited split from the home fans, love and … hate is such a strong word, perhaps “loathe” is better, for the way they play the game.

The mixed bag is also what Smith expected, “a few cheers and a few boos,” he said. “But it’s all good.”

It certainly seems that way. There’s nothing to see here anymore. The time for holding grudges or being upset, on either side, is over. The moment has passed for Smith and for the Hawks, who chose to move on from their homegrown star in free agency this past summer when they allowed Smith to sign a four-year, $54 million contract with the Detroit Pistons without so much as making an offer to him.

The outcome of the game, a 93-85 Hawks win, wasn’t on anyone’s mind as Smith stood among a crowd of reporters in the hallways outside of the Pistons’ locker room before the game.

All anyone wanted to know was how strange it was for Smith to walk into this building on the wrong side? What was it like coming “home” but no longer being a member of the family? What would it be like going against former teammates like Al Horford and Jeff Teague, guys he called his “friends and brothers” when it was all over, for the first time in his career?

Smith didn’t offer up any colorful soundbites. He noted that it was a bit surreal, the whole homecoming thing, and insisted that he wouldn’t let any of it affect him or his approach to the business at hand (his 5-for-15 shooting effort, 0-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, much to the delight of the Hawks’ partisans in the crowd, would suggest otherwise).

He’s focused on the Pistons  now, on making them better and on making sure he does whatever he can to enjoy the second chance he’s gotten in Detroit.

“I have to admit, it’s been humbling to play in front of those fans [in Detroit] with the way they support the home teams,” Smith said. “To play in a first-class organization that has the championship history that we have in Detroit, it’s something I had to experience to appreciate. It’s from the ownership level to the front office and coaching staff all the way down to the last man or woman in the organization. It’s just a different feel, and something that I never understood since I spent my entire career in one spot.”

That spot had to seem awful familiar Wednesday night.

Smith got a bigger rise out of the crowd with his attempts and misses from deep than anyone other than the Hawks’ Kyle Korver, whose streak of games with a made 3-pointer was stretched to 85, which is just four shy of the NBA record. That’s the beauty and the curse Smith has been blessed with. He has the ability to get fans out of their seats, for reasons good and bad.

The most surprising part for me, having covered Smith from his rookie season through his the trials and tribulations that preceded the Hawks’ six-year (and potentially counting, based on what we’ve seen from coach Mike Budenholzer‘s team so far) playoff run, was seeing the way the fans eased up on him from the start.

It was a pleasant surprise. One that you wish Smith’s father, Pete Smith, had been in his customary baseline seat closest to the Hawks’ bench to witness himself. He wasn’t able to do so since he was home battling off the ill effects of the flu.

It would have been nice for him to see that not everyone in this town holds his son in contempt now that everyone has moved on. I know deep down both father and son feel that Josh has never been properly appreciated for what he did to help revive the hometown franchise.

“I just hope they show my son a little love,” the elder Smith said by phone before the game. “I think he earned it, he deserves that much.”

They did, show him just a little love. And yes, he earned it. Smith does rank in the Hawks’ top 10 in games played, points, rebounds, steal and blocks. Yes, he deserved it.

But now it’s time for everyone to move on.

The moment has passed!


VIDEO: Josh Smith with the steal and slam against the hometown Hawks

(Supposedly) Stumbling Knicks Somehow Find A Way To Recover




VIDEO: Knicks handled the Hawks at Philips Arena in a “must-win” game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Is this what passes for pressure these days in the NBA? This is desperation mode?

You couldn’t tell from watching the New York Knicks in the lead up to their “must-win” victory over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night at Philips Arena, a game that was overshadowed by loads of off-court drama and the guarantee from Knicks owner Jim Dolan that his team would prevail on this night.

Not when the rookies, led by Tim Hardaway Jr., show up with a chocolate cake (lit candles and all) for Metta World Peace on his birthday at the post-shootaround team luncheon in a hotel ballroom. (That rousing rendition of Happy Birthday won’t get any of the Knicks’ youngsters or veterans on The Voice, by the way.)

Not when your current trade rumors swirl around Iman Shumpert and he and his coach, Mike Woodson, brush them aside and move on to the business at hand like nothing’s going on.

It’s not that the Knicks weren’t smarting from their sluggish start to this season or their humiliating home loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday at MSG. They were and they still are and will continue to do so with another test tonight against the Houston Rockets at the Garden (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

But they’re not going to let the drama consume them. They issued their own guarantee with their win over the Hawks, a game they led at one time by 17 points, only to have to come back in the fourth quarter to secure the win. They’ll find a way out of this current rut, even if it takes a little longer than the outside world (mainly Knicks fans and Knicks haters) can stomach, guarantee from the owner or not.

“He said what he said but we had to come out here and play,” Carmelo Anthony said after leading the Knicks with 25 points, which included a six-point spurt in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the win. “We had to win for ourselves first and foremost. But now that we’ve won, we can give him that satisfaction.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks’ win in Atlanta

The Knicks are taking their cues from Woodson, who has spent as much time in the pressure cooker this season as any coach in the league. But Woodson has done some of the best work under pressure at Philips Arena over the past decade (including his six seasons as the Hawks’ coach) than most any coach anywhere.

There’s no sense in driving his team to the brink when everyone outside of it assumes they are already there. Sure, he tweaked his starting lineup, inserting J.R. Smith in just his second game back from a five-game suspension. His lineup tweak also served Andrea Bargnani well. Bargnani will never be able to replace the defensive presence that Tyson Chandler (broken fibula) is for the Knicks. But Bargnani played well, finishing with 20 points and a season-high 11 rebounds while knocking down two critical fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

Anthony, in particular, seemed surprisingly at ease after the game.

“This was a great way to kind of get back on track,” he said. “Anytime you can win on the road, it’s always a big win. We came through with a much better effort than we had against San Antonio. I’m glad to see how we responded and put that game behind us.”

The drama won’t go away, of course. It never does in New York. The trade rumors, the overreaction after every stumble, the seemingly never-ending speculation about Woodson’s job security, it’ll all be there again in the next 24-hour cycle of panic.

It’s how they handle it that matters.

The Knicks’ renewed focus on defense and a return to their low turnover ways (just three against the Hawks) plus Woodson’s unwavering approach will help the Knicks find a way.

“Bottom line,” Woodson said, “we’re here to win. And when we step on the floor I expect guys to play to help us win.”


VIDEO: Knicks coach Mike Woodson pleased with team’s effort vs. Hawks

Israeli Rookie Gal Mekel Emerges From Mavs Debut Ready For More


VIDEO: Mavs introduce Gal Mekel, other rookies to media

DALLAS – Gal Mekel woke up early on the eve of his NBA debut to do a teleconference in Hebrew with Israeli reporters. He headed to practice, followed by a bit of treatment and finally back home to relax with his dad and aunt who flew halfway across the world to witness his big night.

Before long it was time for bed.

“I went to sleep,” Mekel said. “And I slept good.”

Slept good? Who sleeps good the night before their first NBA game? Not only that, but pressure would be high for him to play well in the season-opener against the Atlanta Hawks. The re-tooled Dallas Mavericks are down veteran point guard Devin Harris and first-round draft pick Shane Larkin. Mekel, the 6-foot-3 rookie from Petah Tikva, Israel, is all Dallas has behind starters Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.

There was good reason to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

“I remember, after the fact, I was in Portland, I was an assistant coach there when [Arvydas] Sabonis came over,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Sabonis was as big a name out of Europe as you were going to find, and as I got to know him during the year he kind of reflected back to the first game and he said it was the most nervous he had ever been.”

For the better part of his eight minutes, 51 seconds during Dallas’ 118-109 victory, Mekel, 25, played as if he’d been here before. He’d make his first appearance with 3:05 to go in the first quarter, open the second quarter and then help to maintain the Mavs’ lead in the critical early portion of the fourth quarter. He finished with two points, two rebounds, three assists and two turnovers. He was respectable defensively, at times, having to check emerging Hawks starting point guard Jeff Teague.

“Gal gave us eight great minutes,” Carlisle said. “Those minutes are really important. Otherwise, our two starting guards are walking out of here playing 38, 40 minutes and you’ve got to resuscitate them and try to have a practice [the next day].”

Mekel was a minus-2 overall, meaning the Mavs were outscored by two points when he was on the floor. Dallas never lost its lead with Mekel in charge of the offense.

“I think for a first game, the minutes I was on the court, I helped the team and from here I want to keep going, developing,” Mekel said. “I really believe I can be a good player in this league. I can really feel it. I just need to get to know everything better, get more experience. It was great to open with a win and I’m looking forward to Friday.”

Tonight, the Mavs visit the Houston Rockets (8 ET, League Pass). Most will see it as Dallas against Dwight Howard, the premiere free agent who shunned Dallas and joined rival Houston over the summer. It’s also Mekel vs. Omri Casspi, the only Isreali ever drafted in the NBA. The game will be televised live in Israel.

On Wednesday morning, Mekel arrived at the American Airlines Center for shootaround. He went home, ate lunch, took a nap and then made his back to the arena, arriving around 4:30 p.m. After some stretching inside the Mavs’ locker room, Mekel took the court for warmups.

At the other end of the floor, Hawks rookie point guard Dennis Schroder, the first first-round pick from Germany since Dirk Nowitzki, was finishing his pre-game workout. Mavs player development coach Mike Procopio pointed out to Mekel how Atlanta assistant coaches were instructing Schroder to come off screens. Assistant Mavs coach Darrell Armstrong then ran Mekel through shooting drills from various spots on the floor.

“He’s a flashy player,” Armstrong said. “One time on the plane after a preseason game I went back and counted all the behind-the-back passes he made. It’s just a natural thing for him going right to go behind-the-back. Teams will read his tendencies. You learn in this league that the simple plays are the keys to this game.”

After a session of resistance running with athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple, Mekel headed back to the locker room, but not before granting the pleas of fans that had gathered in the front row seeking autographs and pictures. Back in the locker room, he ate a yogurt and a granola bar. Then he put on the uniform for real for the very first time.

“Of course I’m excited, it’s the first game,” Mekel said. “I’m coming with a lot of energy.”

Dallas led 26-18 when he made his first appearance. Early on he got caught in no-man’s land and lost his dribble. He directed a pass toward DeJuan Blair, but it skipped out of bounds. With time running out in the first quarter, Mekel grabbed a defensive rebound, motored up court, dipped inside the free throw line and drew a foul. With 1.7 seconds to go he made both free throws for his first NBA points, and Dallas led 33-28.

Adjusting to the speed and athleticism of his opponents is Mekel’s greatest challenge. In the second quarter, Teague made him pay with a pretty crossover for an easy basket. Soon after, Mekel would exit, but the Mavs still led 41-36.

“As a player it’s always the next play,” Mekel said. “You forget what happened and you move forward. All my life I was a good defender. I like this challenge to guard people. It’s fun for me.”

He’d return early in the fourth quarter with Dallas leading 86-79. A slick baseline bounce pass through the lane led to a Jae Crowder 3-pointer and when Mekel left the game for good with 8:10 remaining, the Mavs were still in control, 94-88. He did not attempt a behind-the-back pass.

“I’m a guy that learns pretty fast and learns from everything to get the experience,” Mekel said. “I think I can really do some corrections fast. For me, it’s just be ready to help the team. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, who’s injured, who’s out; be ready all the time, and that’s the right mentality of a player.”