Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Butler’

Analytics Art: Stars who most lost their 3-point touch in 2015-16


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving mostly struggled from deep in 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry brought new meaning to the term “3-point sharpshooter” throughout 2015-16. The Golden State Warriors point guard obliterated the NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a season (286) that he set a season ago by draining an astonishing 402 treys.

But while Curry drained threes with Pop-A-Shot-like mastery, other league stars regressed in terms of efficiency from downtown.

PointAfter, a sports data visualization site that’s part of the Graphiq network, examined NBA players who attempted at least 80 3-pointers in each of the last two seasons to determine who slumped most season-over-season. While the players we highlighted aren’t the absolute bottom of the barrel by drop in 3-point percentage, they’re some of the league’s elite. That’s what makes their prolonged regression from deep so befuddling.

5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 35.4 percent

2015-16 3P%: 30.9 percent

Percent Difference: -4.5 percent

To his credit, LeBron James really locked in from beyond the arc after the All-Star Game.

After shooting an ugly 27.7 percent from distance prior to NBA All-Star 2016, James drained a highly respectable 37.9 percent of his triples thereafter. Unfortunately for “The King”, that 25-game shooting surge wasn’t enough to prevent an overall down year from 3-point territory.

James isn’t known for his 3-point shooting, but a dip down to 30.9 percent on the season wasn’t ideal. He’s now been on a steady decline since topping out at 40.6 percent for the Miami Heat in 2012-13.

4. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

2014-15 3-point percentage: 37.8 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 31.2 percent

Percent Difference: -6.6 percent

Although Jimmy Butler sunk a higher percentage of his 3-pointers than James, he also saw his efficiency from downtown regress after his breakout campaign of 2014-15. Last year, “Jimmy Buckets” made his first All-Star team and won Kia Most Improved Player.

The Chicago Bulls’ top scorer actually managed to average slightly more points per game this season, but his roller coaster of inconsistency continued from beyond the arc.

Butler has continually followed up a stellar outside shooting season with a poor one. That might be nitpicking, because he’s a tremendous scorer and an elite defender. Still, Bulls fans would surely enjoy some consistency from Butler on his 3-pointers.

3. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

2014-15 3-point percentage: 41.8 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 33.2 percent

Percent Difference: -8.6 percent

In his first season after signing a four-year, $45 million contract, Danny Green didn’t exactly live up to expectations. Touted as one of the league’s premier “three-and-D” free-agent wing players last summer, Green’s excellence from 3-point range disappeared.

After making at least 41 percent of his 3-point attempts for four consecutive seasons, the Green shot just 33.2 percent on 3-pointers this season. It was the lowest mark since his rookie year, when he played 20 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Green’s defensive prowess at least keeps him a playable part of San Antonio’s rotation, but his 3-point cold snap has to be of some concern. The 28-year-old made just 25.8 percent of his 3-pointers in March and wasn’t much better in April (28.6 percent).

In short, he’s been a shell of himself as a shooter this season.

2. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks

2014-15 3-point percentage: 49.2 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 39.9 percent

Percent Difference: -9.3 percent

Last season, Kyle Korver flirted with what would have been the league’s first ever 50-50-90 season (he shot 48.7 percent overall, 49.2 percent from 3-point range and 89.8 percent from the free throw line). He made the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the first time in his career (as an injury replacement) and continued to establish his standing as one of the league’s truly elite catch-and-shoot snipers.

But several obstacles got in the way of Korver between last season and this one. He underwent right ankle surgery in May to repair ligament damage that occurred when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Matthew Dellavedova rolled into his foot in the Eastern Conference finals. After that, Korver had a second surgery to remove loose bodies from his shooting elbow.

Getting back to his old self after that shouldn’t have been deemed feasible, but a 9.3-percent drop-off is still rather alarming for a shooter as talented as Korver.

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 41.5 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 32.1 percent

Percent Difference: -9.4

For as much as Korver struggled relative to his masterful 2014-15 season, Kyrie Irving was worse. Not only did his percentage drop more than Korver’s, but Irving also made just 32.1 percent of his 3-pointers — ranking him No. 131 among qualified players, behind lesser shooters like Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker, Philadelphia’s Ish Smith and Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio.

Since Irving entered the league, 3-point shooting has been one of his primary offensive weapons. That wasn’t the case this season.

Despite the shooting woes of Irving and James, Cleveland still managed to rank tied for No. 7 in 3-point percentage (36.2 percent). If he and James can catch fire in the postseason, the Cavs’ road back to the NBA Finals will be much easier.

This article was originally published on PointAfter (https://basketball-players.pointafter.com/stories/12614/nba-stars-who-lost-outside-shooting-touch), a partner of NBA.com.

 

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — April 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors locked in on history | Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors | Kobe Bryant reflects on his final days | Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway

No. 1: Warriors locked in on history All that’s left is 48 minutes. A mere 48 minutes and the Golden State Warriors will have produced the finest regular season in NBA history, surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls they tied for the best win total ever with Sunday’s win San Antonio. As our very own Fran Blinebury wrote after the Warriors snapped the Spurs’ bid to record the first perfect home record in a season, this history-making season has washed over the league in waves:

History comes in waves, like the relentless sets of breakers that Golden State used to wash over the NBA in a record-setting 24-0 start to the season that planted the flag in the ground and seemed to lift the Warriors up above mere greatness and pushed them on this journey.

All those games and all those nights in all those cities when they took the floor feeling and knowing and playing like they were truly superior to the guys in the other uniforms and never let themselves forget that.

All those other nights when maybe they weren’t at their physical or mental peak and had to somehow find a way to get it done. Like just 24 hour earlier in Memphis when it took digging down deep in the final seconds to pull out a victory over an outmanned bunch of Grizzlies to keep the quest alive.

If these same two teams meet again in six weeks in the Western Conference finals, this game will mean nothing then. But that doesn’t make it mean nothing today.

“Obviously, we’re in the moment, enjoying the ride and the goal is to win a championship,” said Curry after scoring 37 points. “That’s what we’re playing for. But we put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s kind of hard to step outside the locker room and understand the spotlight that comes with it or just the hoopla because we come out every night trying to win. But when you think about it, I guess, perspective, only two teams have done what we’ve done so far and hopefully Wednesday we can finish that off. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite the offer, even the wish from coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors regulars might choose to rest up for the fast approaching playoffs, there was never a question that any of them would sit with their feet up.

“I tried to do it with the way I played and obviously the decision on resting or not was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said. “I’m not nursing any injuries, I don’t think putting myself in a position to be a step slow come the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?”

Kerr, of course, is the link, having played for 20 years ago for the 72-10 Bulls.

History comes in memories.

“I thought as a player it seemed like a bigger deal because the players talk about it, think about it,” Kerr said. “We never talked about it as a staff here this year. It’s really a players’ reward, a players’ honor, a players’ record. They’re the ones that go out and play. It probably meant more to me back then personally. But to see the look on these guys faces knowing that they have a chance to break the record and at least they tied it, they’re pretty excited and that’s what’s great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy.”

***

No. 2: Spurs won’t dwell on latest loss to Warriors The chance for history ended at the hands of the one team the San Antonio Spurs have not been able to solve this season. Their quest for the first undefeated home record in NBA history was blown away by a blitz from the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. But the Spurs will not let this latest loss to the Warriors, their third in four tries this season, linger. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com provides some context for the Spurs:

The Warriors stopped cold San Antonio’s home winning streak at 39 games, while reaching historic win No. 72, marking the third time in four meetings — and second time in four nights — Golden State knocked off the Spurs. Still, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was satisfied with the team’s effort. He is confident that San Antonio’s experience mixed with a sharpened playoff focus, and a fresh game plan in late May could lift the Spurs over the Warriors when the stakes are highest in a potential Western Conference finals.

“We played a hell of a team, and I thought our aggressiveness, our attention to detail, was much better than [Thursday night’s loss at Golden State],” Popovich said. “They did a lot of good things out there. I’m really happy with how we performed.”

So instead of lamenting a loss they can’t get back, the Spurs choose now to focus on closing out strong in preparation for the playoffs.

“It’s a whole different ball game in the playoffs,” David West said when asked whether the Warriors now hold a psychological advantage, having defeated the Spurs three times in the regular season. “Hopefully, it will be another two months, or whatever it is, a month and a half, until we see them again. Our job is just to keep improving and prepare ourselves now for a tough first-round matchup against whomever; just keep developing who we are.”

The outing at the AT&T Center on Sunday played out much differently than Thursday’s 112-101 trouncing at Oracle Arena, yet San Antonio still managed to come up short despite making significant progress against the Warriors defensively.

“I think in Golden State for sure we were not sharp enough,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Today we made a few mistakes. I think we played a good game. We were not good offensively. I’m not concerned. I was concerned after the Golden State game [on the road] because it was not us. I think a game like today can easily happen. We hadn’t lost one game at home the whole season. It can happen that you lose one against a team that is one of the best teams ever. We can’t start banging our heads against the wall and [saying], ‘Oh, we are terrible.’ It can happen.”

San Antonio slowed down the pace significantly in Sunday’s contest, giving Golden State its slowest paced game since defeating the Warriors 87-79 on March 17, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. The Spurs also limited Golden State to an ice-cold shooting percentage of 35.1, while dominating the visitors in offensive rebounding 13-3. San Antonio’s 13 offensive rebounds in the first half go down as the most the club had snatched in a single half all season, not to mention the most the Warriors have allowed in any half over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. San Antonio’s supremacy on the offensive glass helped the Spurs outscore the Warriors 11-0 on second-chance points.

The problem is while administering suffocating defense and crashing the offensive glass, the Spurs managed to shoot even frostier (28.6 percent) than the Warriors. Then, as Golden State caught fire in the third quarter, going on a 12-0 run with Stephen Curry racking up 16 points for his 30th quarter of 15 points or more this season, San Antonio remained cold (34.3 percent shooting).

What’s more is the offensive rebounding subsided, too, with the Spurs grabbing just five more offensive boards in the entire second half.

“Our perimeter had a tough time making shots, that’s for sure,” Popovich said. “That was the problem offensively all night, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. Steph got away from us for a while, but a part of it was some bad shots. We lost our poise for about a three-minute period, and we were in constant transition, and he got away from us. That was the difference in the ball game. But I’m really proud of the guys what they did tonight.”

***

No. 3: Kobe Bryant reflects on his finals days  The finish line is in sight for Kobe Bryant. Tonight’s final game in Oklahoma City (8 ET, NBA League Pass) followed by Wednesday’s finale against Utah at Staples Center and that’s it, a 20 years of a Hall of Fame career comes to an end. In what has been a sobering and reflective season for one of the game’s all-time greats, there is finally a sense of relief and acceptance of his fate. Kobe didn’t go out chasing that sixth title, the way he had hoped. But as Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical points out, Kobe is going out on his own terms:

Against all odds, Kobe Bryant goes home for goodbye on two feet, goes home for goodbye on the best terms he could’ve ever dictated.

“It feels so good,” Bryant told The Vertical. “For the last three years, I haven’t been able to do it. Achilles. Knee. Shoulder. Serious injuries. My preparation was right. I worked and worked for my body to be able to get through this.”

“Coming into the season, I had the concern: Could I make it all year?” Bryant told The Vertical. “I had the fear. But I embraced that fear, and then I let it go. I realized: I can’t control it. I prepare. I do all the work. If that happens, it happens. And I stopped thinking about it.”

All around, the boom mics hung over us. His documentary crew comes everywhere now, chronicling every interaction, every interview. For a moment, Bryant was still thinking about life on a contender. He is nodding his head, insisting this is true: “Listen, I believe this: On a better team, I could play a lot better. Physically, I know I could do so much more. I found that rhythm, that balance. But after three major injuries, to get to the end [healthy], this means the world to me.”

There are two stories to end this NBA regular season: The Warriors’ historic march to 73 victories, and Bryant’s historic uneven, unnerving final season. They’ll remember Bryant as one of the NBA’s great champions, remember a relentless pursuit of perfection. Oh, he’d love to be chasing 73 victories, but mostly he wishes he was pursuing that sixth NBA title.

Somewhere along the way, Bryant had to let go. There wouldn’t be winning this season. There would be bouquets. He’s never minded everyone watching him, everyone feting his greatness. So started the legacy tour, so started a long, slow trot around the bases. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant let himself think for a moment about that Golden State-San Antonio game on Sunday night, about the parallel universe of winning ball that’s left his life.

Had the Lakers still been a contender – had everything not crumbled around him – Bryant swears this would all be so different, so much more suited to his persona.

“The ovations wouldn’t be here,” Bryant told The Vertical. “We’d be amidst cutthroat competition. In this season, I’ve been able to come up for air, take the blinders off, look around, soak it all in – and say thank you. Had we been competing for a championship, there’s no way I’d allow all this to happen. We’d have one goal in mind and that would be winning the championship.

“In the end, this wasn’t hard to accept. I can accept reality and move on.”

***

No. 4: Colangelo’s rebranding in Philadelphia already underway Give Bryan Colangelo credit, he didn’t waste any time in his effort to change the narrative in Philadelphia. His rebranding of the situation with the Sixers began the moment he was introduced as the team’s new president of basketball operations Sunday. And if there is one thing Colangelo has learned in all of his years around the game, it’s that change at the fundamental level has to come immediately. David Murphy of Philly.com explains:

For all of the talk of the Sixers finally bringing in some real basketball men, the truth is that people like the Colangelos are, first and foremost, salesmen. They are billionaire whisperers, adept at convincing really rich people to entrust them with their capital. In 1999, Jerry published a book titled, How You Play the Game: Lessons for Life from the Billion-Dollar Business of Sports.

The elder Colangelo clearly succeeded at selling Harris and his partners on the need for a leader with a skill set that just happened to line up with the one his son offered. Bryan’s biggest theme during Sunday’s press conference was the need for the Sixers to build relationships throughout the league, one of many tacit references to Hinkie’s greatest perceived weakness.

Yet the logic starts to fall apart when you think about the fact that Ed Stefanski and Billy King were respected, personable executives who nevertheless were forced to overpay to keep their own players (Andre Iguodala) and to sign new ones (Elton Brand). Fact is, the Sixers are not an NBA destination, just like the Raptors weren’t when Colangelo was there (and when Chris Bosh left for the Heat).

Again, though, it comes down to messaging. As GM of the Suns, Colangelo “lured” Steve Nash away from Dallas in 2004, which sounds great, except “luring” really meant paying him $20 million more than any other team, including the Mavericks, who declined Nash’s request that they match the deal. When Colangelo attempted to bring Nash to Toronto in 2012, Nash leveraged Toronto’s three-year, $36 million offer into a three-year deal with the Lakers.

But, hey, it’s a relationship business, right?

Ironically, the failed pursuit of Nash is one of the reasons Colangelo has seen his legacy improve over the past few years as the Raptors have blossomed. Once he lost Nash, Colangelo traded a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry, who is now an anchor on one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Nash, meanwhile, was an unmitigated disaster with the Lakers.

That’s not to say the Sixers’ new president will destroy whatever foundation Hinkie has laid over the past three seasons. Both Colangelo and Harris repeatedly insisted that the change in leadership would not result in a change in vision.

“This is not about a departure from a process,” Colangelo said.

What was it really about? Let’s answer in a form Hinkie might appreciate. As Plato once said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler did not fly to New Orleans with his teammates after Sunday’s game, but is expected to join them for tonight’s game against the Pelicans … The heated rivalry between the Warriors and Spurs extends beyond the court and also includes the Warriors’ broadcast team and the Spurs fans … Thunder coach Billy Donovan is employing a similar philosophy to what Steve Kerr has done with the Warriors in allowing the players to decide if they want to rest or grind through the end of the regular season … With the playoffs just days away, it’s time for Tyronn Lue to figure some things out about the Cavaliers and his rotation

Morning Shootaround — April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards eliminated from playoffs | For Warriors, motivation not a problem | Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? | The Brooklyn Swamp Dragons?

No. 1: Wizards eliminated from playoffs After giving the Atlanta Hawks all they could handle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, the Washington Wizards were a popular choice to contend in the Eastern Conference this season. Instead, with last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Wizards were eliminated from postseason contention and clinched a finish below .500. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, playing without an injured John Wall didn’t do anything to help matters

Elimination games were not uncharted territory for the Wizards. They just didn’t expect to play any in the regular season without their best player. But a season that began with a top-four seed and the franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals berth since 1979 atop the list of objectives was sabotaged by baffling inconsistency and a bevy of perplexing losses. Consequently, the Wizards have spent much of the second half of the season outside the playoff picture, scoreboard-peeking while they squandered opportunities.

With three games remaining, the Wizards, winners of 44 and 46 games the past two seasons, are 38-41 and cannot finish the campaign above .500.

“We had some tough losses,” said Wizards forward Markieff Morris, who was acquired Feb. 18. “It’s tough with the talent and the expectations they had even before I got here. It’s definitely a tough way to end the season. But we have to finish these last games strong and start looking forward.”

The Pistons improved to 43-37 after finishing 32-50 last season and rose to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the victory. Reggie Jackson led the charge Friday, shooting 14 of 20 from the field and adding nine assists. Tobias Harris, a trade-deadline acquisition, contributed 17 points, while all-star Andre Drummond was held to eight points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.

Morris, playing against his twin brother, Marcus, for the third time since joining the Wizards, recorded 29 points, his most in a Wizards uniform. Bradley Beal, who assumed some primary ballhandling duties with Wall out, contributed 25 points and had six turnovers. Ramon Sessions, John Wall’s replacement in the starting lineup, finished with 12 points and six assists.

Wall underwent an MRI exam on his right knee after sitting out Wednesday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets — the first game he had missed this season — and the results revealed no tear or sprain. After the Wizards had their team photo taken at Verizon Center on Thursday morning, he went to a doctor and the knee was drained. That remedied the swelling, but the pain remained after treatment all day Thursday and Friday morning before the team rode the bus to Auburn Hills for shoot-around.

“It took all the fluid out, but it’s just still sore and numb to move,” Wall said after shoot-around Friday morning. “It’s just sore. It’s still sore.”

Wall also said he still doesn’t know how he hurt the knee. He woke up with it swollen Wednesday morning. He recalled his day Tuesday, mystified: practice, shooting workouts, usual maintenance treatment, shower, media availability, home.

“Nothing was wrong,” Wall said.

The Wizards did not succumb without some pugnacity Friday. The Pistons used a three-point barrage — they made nine of their first 11 attempts — to build a 19-point lead in the second quarter, which Washington shrunk to seven at halftime. Detroit again tried to put the Wizards away in the third quarter, widening the gulf back to 16 with 4 minutes 58 seconds remaining in the period on a three-point play by Marcus Morris.

***

No. 2: For Warriors, motivation not a problem After winning a title last season, the Golden State Warriors managed to return this season and have put together what has a chance to be the greatest regular season in NBA history. As Andrew Bogut told Yahoo’s Michael Lee, the Warriors haven’t really had much trouble finding motivation this season

The most disrespected great team in NBA history never had the chance to get satisfied. The Golden State Warriors went from their Champagne showers in Cleveland to that championship parade along Lake Merritt, right into a cynical volcano that spewed molten Haterade over all they accomplished. At every turn, what the Warriors achieved got discredited and diminished: They got lucky. The league was watered down. If so-and-so had been healthy …

“Blah, blah, blah. We just kept having people put bulletin-board material out there for us,” Andrew Bogut told The Vertical. “What we heard in the offseason was we didn’t deserve to be champions – and it pissed guys off. Every other week, someone made a comment. We heard all the naysayers. I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing.”

Bogut repeated himself and cracked a smile because he knows it was a good thing. With Thursday’s 112-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors became the second NBA team in history win 70 games, and that’s largely because they never had to search for motivation during their title defense. Of course, the Warriors had the Spurs – also in the midst of their best season in franchise history – to push them so hard that 70 wins actually became a requirement to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

But more than anything, the Warriors had the hate. Of the 10 previous teams to win at least 67 games, the Warriors are the first to record more victories the following season. Their regular-season dominance has been the result of defiance – the kind that might finally be satiated by reaching some rarefied air.

Golden State (70-9) still needs to win its last three games to jump over Jumpman and break the 72-win record set in 1995-96 by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. But no matter the final win tally, the Warriors – at least, in their minds – have done enough to distinguish themselves as one of the best regular-season teams ever and prove that last season’s success didn’t come by accident.

“Should be enough. It’s only one [other] team who’s done it in NBA history, and it’s considered ‘the greatest team ever,’ ” an air-quoting Klay Thompson told The Vertical. “So I mean, we still got to take care of business in the playoffs. I think that will be the cap on everything. But this is a steppingstone for that.”

***

No. 3: Bulls to choose Noah over Gasol? One day after likely free agent Pau Gasol mentioned the way the Bulls finished may affect his decision-making in free agency, turns out it may not matter, at least in Chicago. As K.C. Johnson writes in the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are likely going to find themselves having to make a choice between pursuing Joakim Noah or Gasol, in which case Noah might be their selection…

Though front-office meetings have yet to finalize the Bulls’ Plan A for this offseason, there is strong internal desire to re-sign Noah on a short-term deal. Noah long has been a favorite player and ambassador of Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Executive vice president John Paxson drafted Noah, and their bond is genuine.

Plus, though injuries have diminished Noah since his All-NBA season in 2013-14, his defensive abilities and leadership qualities fill gaping voids.

It will take work, not to mention money, to win back Noah, who disliked the false story Fred Hoiberg spread at the start of the season that he volunteered to come off the bench. He then disliked playing just 20 minutes per game and not finishing them more.

But Hoiberg had started to play Noah more before his first shoulder injury in December. And Noah remains invested enough in the team to question Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose for their silence at the April 3 team meeting, according to several people present.

The Bulls passed on an opportunity to try to finalize moving Gasol to the Kings at the February trade deadline. General manager Gar Forman, who won the internal debate to keep Gasol, called the All-Star center “part of our core.” Gasol said then the Bulls “for sure” are the leading candidates for his free agency services.

Gasol placed a qualifier on that claim, saying how the Bulls fared over the final 30 games would play a factor in his decision, which will come after he exercises his player option for free agency.

The Bulls are 12-15 since.

***

No. 4: Swamp Dragons? The Brooklyn Nets are established now in their new borough, after moving a few rivers east from their previous home in New Jersey. But while the Brooklyn part of their name is new, it turns out that a few years back, they almost passed on the Nets nickname. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes in a lively oral history, once upon a time, the New Jersey Nets very nearly became the New Jersey Swamp Dragons

As the vote of the full Board of Governors neared, news of the proposed name change leaked — and drew a predictable backlash.

SPOELSTRA: Someone from [Gov.] Christine Whitman‘s office called me and said they didn’t like the Meadowlands being referred to as a a swamp. Well, that’s what it is. I don’t see any cows grazing there. (Through a spokesperson, Whitman said she didn’t recall the Swamp Dragons saga.)

COHEN: Of course, the Meadowlands is in a swamp. It was a colorful name, but I started to wonder if it might draw more ridicule than anything else. How would sponsors feel about sponsoring a team called the Swamp Dragons? We had to think about all of that. I don’t know if Chuck Daly [hired in 1993] would have come to coach the Swamp Dragons.

O’GRADY: We spent four or five months on this, and suddenly there was a pushback. We were getting hammered. Hammered. We played around with maybe just calling them Fire Dragons — to save the dragon, but veer away from the swamp.

SPOELSTRA: Fire Dragons didn’t come from us. We wanted Swamp Dragons. The funny thing is, that swamp caught fire every summer anyway. The water would literally burn because of all the chemicals in it. Talk about fire dragons.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kent Bazemore‘s #BazeGaze has become a thing in AtlantaSix promising NBA head coaching candidates worth keeping an eye on … Villanova’s Jay Wright says he doesn’t have any plans of jumping to the NBA … According to ESPN.com, the Phoenix Suns plan on launching a broad coaching search this offseasonBen Simmons will pass up playing in Rio to prepare for his NBA career … Justin Bieber visited the Houston Rockets

Pistons win ‘biggest game’ so far, while Bulls sink further in East

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bulls were all about clinching playoff spots Saturday night.

For Miami. For Charlotte. Just not for themselves with their 94-90 loss at home to the Detroit Pistons.

Instead of seizing the two-fer opportunity against the Pistons (who were playing the tail end of a back-to-back) and at least keeping pace with the Pacers (who rallied to win in Philadelphia), the Bulls dug their hole at the bottom of the Eastern Conference bracket a little deeper. At 38-38, they remain in ninth place, two games behind Indiana and 2.5 behind Detroit.

Chicago has six games left and holds the tiebreaker against the Pacers but lost it, along with the game, against the Pistons. In the four-game series against Chicago, including five overtime periods, Detroit outscored the Bulls 440-439 in 217 minutes but wound up 3-1.

Stan Van Gundy had billed this one, coming in, as the biggest game of the season for his club. So when they closed it out, the Pistons coach didn’t back away from its significance.

“Up to this point,” he said, qualifying it just a bit. “Hopefully there are even bigger ones to come. But for four of our starters – and they all agreed – that’s the most meaningful win of their NBA careers. All of our starters except Reggie [Jackson]. But we’ve got bigger things to do. So we’re not there yet.”

Detroit closed out the playoff-style game by holding Chicago to 7-of-23 shooting in the fourth quarter, while its 11-of-16 work from the foul line was better than their 9-for-18 through three quarters. Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Jackson were a perfect 8-for-8 in the final 2:17, with Van Gundy sitting center Andre Drummond for the final 5:22 after he bricked nine of his 10 free throws.

“He was 1-for-10 – he made the decision easy tonight,” Van Gundy said. “In a close game like that, we can’t be playing or hoping for one point at most when they’re playing for two or three. You can’t do that. You’re putting too much pressure on your defense.”

Chicago has been putting too much pressure on its entire game after flopping in that gauntlet last week against the Knicks, the Knicks again and the Magic. Taking even two of those would have them in seventh right now, a game up with the tiebreaker over ninth-place Indiana. Now?

“We are well aware of our situation,” veteran Pau Gasol said. “The math is probably against us at this point.”

With Derrick Rose (left elbow) and Taj Gibson (rib contusion) out, and with the four starters besides Jimmy Butler shooting zero free throws in a combined 112 minutes, the offensive load fell to Butler. He posted the first triple-double of his career – 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists – but he shot 10-of-25, dominated Chicago’s stagnant offense down the stretch and was exhausted before the final horn.

“He put up good numbers. He shot a lot of shots, too,” said Morris, who stayed physical with the Bulls’ scorer until Van Gundy switched Kentavious Caldwell-Pope onto Butler late. “Hopefully that’s what happens. He’s a good player, an All-Star. I love Jimmy, one of my closest guys in the NBA. Great player. He’s just one of those guys, we go back and forth.”

There’s no back or forth for the Bulls now, just falling down and looking up at the Pistons, the Pacers and six other East rivals in the standings.

Analytics Art: Derrick Rose bouncing back to form despite Bulls meltdown

By Ben Leibowitz, special to NBA.com

Amid the Chicago Bulls’ ill-timed slump and fall from the Eastern Conference playoff picture (they’re one game back from the No. 8 seed Indiana Pacers heading into action on April 2), Derrick Rose has been playing his best basketball in years.

The 2011 NBA MVP has dealt with a barrage of injuries since establishing himself as one of the league’s best players. He’s missed 224 of a possible 403 regular season games since being named Most Valuable Player, primarily due to devastating knee injuries.

He’s already played the most games in a season since 2010-11 this year, and staying healthy has allowed Rose to knock off years of rust. While he struggled throughout the first half of the season, he’s mostly shined since the All-Star break. In fact, his stats since All-Star Weekend are actually somewhat comparable to his MVP season.

After averaging 21.9 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds throughout February, Rose has continued to play well via efficiency through March. In the “Shooting” tab within the visualization, you can see Rose was particularly dead-on from beyond the arc. He drained 40.5 percent of his attempts from distance in 15 games — significantly better than his career mark of just 30.4 percent from three-point territory.

That marksmanship from distance is unheard of for Rose, who has always been more of a slasher who uses his pure athletic talents to get to the bucket and score. But he’s reinvented himself of late by scoring with efficiency from inside and outside the arc.

Unfortunately, Rose was ruled out for the second half of Chicago’s most recent game against the Houston Rockets. He went scoreless on zero shot attempts in 12 minutes of action before being shut down to nurse an elbow ailment.

The Bulls have work to do if they’re going to make it into the playoff picture by season’s end. They play a big game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, but it remains to be seen if D-Rose will be back to action and playing as well as he has been of late. Coupled with struggles from Jimmy Butler — who has reached the 20-point plateau just twice since returning from injury on March 14, Chicago fights an uphill battle.

Note: This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz (https://twitter.com/BenLebo) is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

 

Hoiberg shoots down Butler issues

HOUSTON — Prior to Thursday night’s game against the Rockets, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg claimed there are no problems in his relationship with Jimmy Butler that could lead to the Bulls trading the All-Star shooting guard during the offseason.

Chris Mannix of The Vertical reported that he has heard there is “legitimate interest in Chicago” in potentially dealing Butler this summer, with the Magic showing particular interest in the two-time All-Star.

Chemistry issues between Butler and Hoiberg resulted in several inquires about Butler’s availability at the February trade deadline from multiple teams, Mannix said.

Butler criticized Hoiberg’s coaching style in December, telling ESPN that he feels the team needs to be “coached a lot harder at times.”

Butler signed a five-year, $92.34 million deal with the Bulls last year. He is averaging 21 points, 4.4. assists, and 5.2 rebounds this seasons. But the Bulls have been inconsistent all season, entering the game against the Rockets at 37-37 and currently out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I haven’t heard anything about that, but I don’t read a lot right now,” Holberg said in the hallway of the Toyota Center. “I think Jimmy and I have a really good relationship right now. I’ve been communicating a lot with him. Since he had the injury and has come back we’ve really limited his time. He hasn’t done much at shootarounds just to try to save his legs for the game.

“I obviously think the world of him for how hard he pushes himself and how much he’s just improved his game over the years with his work ethic. I think that rubs off on the other guys. So Jimmy absolutely is a very important part of this team.”

Hoiberg said the perception that the two are at odds is false.

“That’s not the reality at all,” he said. “I think Jimmy and I have a very good relationship. Obviously I have all the trust in Jimmy, put the ball in his hands late, late in games to help us go out and finish games. I communicate with Jimmy as much as anybody on this team. Again, I think very highly of him just for what he’s done with his game over the course of his career. I’ve always been a fan of his. Again, it’s completely false.”

Butler’s numbers have been down across the board since returning to the lineup from a knee injury.

“You can just tell he’s laboring out there,” Holberg said. “I think he’d be the first one to tell you just how sore he is with his body right now. He’s got a lot of back stiffness. He’s got leg issues with everything going on. He’s out there fighting and battling through it. He understands everything that’s at stake right now. He’s not gonna leave his teammates out to dry. He’s going to go out there and put himself in uniform and help us battle and fight for a playoff spot.”

Morning shootaround — March 31


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs won’t chase 41-0 home mark | Warriors set franchise wins record | Report: Chemistry issues dogging Bulls | Cousins, Rondo face suspension | Russell deals with fallout from video incident

No. 1: Spurs won’t chase perfect home record — The San Antonio Spurs had to endure a fourth-quarter push by the New Orleans Pelicans, but held on last night to win 100-92. The victory moved the Spurs to 38-0 at AT&T Center this season, marking the best home start in NBA history to break the 37-0 record the Chicago Bulls compiled in 1995-96. Three home games stand between home court perfection, but in typical San Antonio fashion, going 41-0 at home means nothing to the Spurs. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com has more:

Gregg Popovich’s blank stare on Wednesday previewed what he would say when asked what it meant for the San Antonio Spurs to run off their 38th consecutive home victory and set a record for the best home start in NBA history.

“Absolutely nothing,” Popovich said. “Maybe a cup of coffee. Maybe.”

While observers might view what’s percolating in San Antonio as special, the Spurs consider the regular-season accolades meaningless if they’re walking away in June without a championship trophy in hand. Most made that abundantly clear in a business-as-usual locker room on the heels of San Antonio’s 100-92 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

“The only thing I see is that we can try and win a championship,” point guard Tony Parker said. “I don’t really think about having a good regular season, how many games we won. It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, the only thing you remember is how many championships you won.”

Manu Ginobili hadn’t played since March 25, as the club deactivated him for matchups on Saturday and Monday at Oklahoma City and Memphis. Ginobili’s last extended rest came in February as the result of testicular surgery, which kept him out of 12 games. Upon return from that setback, Ginobili racked up a season-high 22 points in 15 minutes. After this latest two-game rest, Ginobili came back to the lineup and lit up the Pelicans on 5 of 6 from 3-point range for another 20-point night while tying Leonard for the team high in steals at three.

San Antonio faces Toronto, Golden State and Oklahoma City in its next three home games.

Parker said earlier in the week that he doesn’t expect Popovich to play all the front-line players in either of the remaining matchups against the Warriors (April 7 and April 10). Parker reiterated that point at Wednesday’s shootaround and said it “doesn’t matter to me” when asked about the importance of the club’s current home streak.

Ginobili echoed those sentiments.

“No, it really doesn’t [matter],” Ginobili said. “If we would have lost Game 24, and now we are 37-1, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. Having a 38-game streak or 37-1 is unbelievable, anyway. So I really don’t care about streaks. We know we are having a great season. If we would have lost one more or two more, it wouldn’t change that.”


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich talks after the Spurs’ win Wednesday

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Morning shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blake Griffin practices, eyes return soon | Retired referee Crawford speaks out | What a weird week for LeBron James | Wolves’ decision on GM, coach on hold

No. 1: Griffin practices, eyes return — The wildcard with the Clippers has always been Blake Griffin, seeing as how his season was interrupted by a bum quad and a busted hand, and now we’ll get to see how wild of a card he is. Griffin returned to practice with the Clippers on Saturday, and the organization announced Griffin will begin serving his four-game suspension on Sunday after being medically cleared to return. Here’s Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times with the latest on Griffin and the Clips:

Of course, there will be one final delay included in any timeline. Griffin must serve a four-game suspension for punching team assistant equipment manager Matias Testi, punishment that won’t start until the Clippers inform the NBA that Griffin has been cleared to play.

That could come as soon as Sunday, when the Clippers play the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center, based on the results of Griffin’s first practice. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Griffin looked “phenomenal” while completing the entire session. His conditioning was also better than expected.

If Griffin began serving his suspension Sunday, he could return April 3 against the Washington Wizards and play in seven games before the Clippers open the playoffs.

“I don’t care if it’s zero, to be honest, now, as long as he’s playing to start the playoffs,” Rivers said when asked how many games he wanted Griffin to play before the end of the regular season.

The NBA is not expected to independently verify that Griffin has sufficiently recovered to play, but if it has any concerns it can step in and have him examined by a doctor of its choosing.

Rivers said Griffin had received clearance from his hand and quadriceps injuries “for a while” but needed to build strength and endurance before being allowed to practice. Griffin’s partially torn left quadriceps tendon, which has sidelined him since Christmas, was bothersome as recently as a few weeks ago, forcing Griffin to briefly scale back his workouts.

The Clippers held only a light practice Saturday and it was not clear whether they would need to see Griffin participate in more rigorous activities before clearing him to play. Griffin was not made available to speak with reporters.

“I don’t know if one practice is enough to activate him,” Rivers said. “We’ve got to activate him when we think he’s ready to play.”

Griffin was in the midst of possibly his best season before being injured, averaging 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists while making 50.8% of his shots. The Clippers have gone 27-14 since Griffin last played but have struggled in recent weeks.

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Butler, Mayo and Cousins in NBA’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ matinee


Since it’s Throwback Thursday on social media, we might as well throw it all the way back to that iconic 1966 “spaghetti Western” starring a young Clint Eastwood and directed by Italy’s Sergio Leone that has become a favorite of headline writers and those trading in triplets of all sorts.

In fairly rapid succession Thursday afternoon, the NBA produced news that broke down along the lines of “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”

First “the Good:”

This is good news in a macro sense because anytime an All-Star player learns that an injury is less severe than initially feared, fans across the NBA should feel relieved, if not rejoice. It’s good news for the Chicago Bulls at the micro level, though, because any hope that team has of righting itself in time for a serious playoff run in the East bracket requires the services of Jimmy Butler. Here is more detail from Mike McGraw, Bulls beat guy for the suburban Chicago Daily Herald:

Butler, who missed 11 games with a left knee strain, made a successful return last Saturday in a win over Houston, but experienced swelling in the knee after the game. He sat out Monday’s victory over Milwaukee and will not be with the team when the Bulls play tonight at San Antonio. It’s not yet clear whether Butler might play in Friday’s home game against Miami.

Butler has had two MRI exams on his left knee, so structural damage wasn’t the concern when the all-star shooting guard chose to get an opinion from Dr. [James] Andrews. The Bulls have 20 games left to secure a playoff spot. As of Thursday morning, they were in eighth place in the East, a few percentage points ahead of Detroit.

 

Next came “the Bad,” lousy news that even ruthless Lee Van Cleef would Tweet “SMH” over:

The Bucks issues a release quoting general manager John Hammond and stating that Mayo suffered the fracture when he tripped down some stairs at his home. Milwaukee’s backcourt situation already was injury-riddled, with Michael Carter-Williams shut down for hip surgery and Greivis Vasquez sidelined by ankle surgery. Reporter Shams Charnia of Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical fleshed out Mayo’s predicament:

Mayo, 28, sustained the injury this week and surgery is a possibility, sources said.
Mayo … has averaged 7.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 41 games (24 starts).

He is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with Milwaukee in 2013.

 

That left – cue the mournful harmonica music of maestro Ennio Morricone – “the Ugly,” provided not surprisingly by the Sacramento Kings and chief migraine-inducer DeMarcus Cousins:

As if Cousins picking up his 15th technical foul of the season wasn’t disruptive enough in Sacramento’s home loss to Cleveland Thursday, the big man appeared to berate head coach George Karl during a timeout in the fourth quarter. Witnesses said Cousins was upset that Karl hadn’t argued foul calls on his behalf.

James Ham, Kings Insider for CSNBayArea.com, offered some context to Cousin’s one-game rip for conduct detrimental to the team:

[Kings GM] Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings have put their foot down. … Video was captured of Cousins yelling at the 64-year-old Karl during a timeout.

At one point Rudy Gay and assistant coach Corliss Williamson tried to intervene, and finally point guard Rajon Rondo stepped in between the two as they both sat in a team huddle on the sidelines.

The Kings are mired in a tough stretch over which the team has gone just 1-7 and watch their playoff hopes fade. Tension has been high as the Kings head towards their 10th straight lottery season. Cousins picked up his 15th technical foul during the game for arguing a call and he was in no mood to talk after the game.

This suspension comes on the heels of Karl informing the media late Wednesday that he will miss Thursday’s practice due to a cancer related procedure.

 

Before we leave this film classic, let’s give it the credit it deserves for Eli Wallach‘s character, Tuco, offering a bit of invaluable basketball advice: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”

 

Butler seeks second opinion on knee

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Chicago Bulls are on their way to San Antonio to face the Spurs on Thursday. But their season may hinge on a trip to Alabama.

That’s where Jimmy Butler is heading to visit Dr. James Andrews, looking for a second opinion on a left knee issue that has kept him out of 12 of the Bulls’ last 13 games.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has the story

Coach Fred Hoiberg said the swelling has subsided enough in Butler’s knee for him to get a workout in late Tuesday and also get up some shots during Wednesday’s light practice. But there also is cause for concern given pain is lingering and Butler didn’t respond well to playing one game after missing the previous 11 to an injury originally suffered on Feb. 5 in Denver.

“He’s just got a little bit of pain on the back of that knee and we just want to be safe with it,” Hoiberg said.

Butler wasn’t made available to reporters. Hoiberg said it was Butler’s idea to seek the second opinion.

“Everybody agrees that it’s a good idea to go down there and just get an opinion from one of the top doctors in the world,” Hoiberg said.

The Bulls said the latest exam from their own team physician, Brian Cole, revealed nothing structurally wrong with the knee.

The Bulls are 5-8 without Butler this season and have been outscored by 3.8 points per 100 possessions (the mark of a bottom-five team) with him off the floor. E’Twaun Moore started in Butler’s place in Monday’s win vs. Milwaukee.

The Bulls are just a half game ahead of the Detroit Pistons for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The two teams will meet for a final time in Chicago on April 2, with Detroit holding a 2-1 lead in the season series.