Posts Tagged ‘Joakim Noah’

Noah turns intensity into DPOY landslide

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joakim Noah named Defensive Player of the Year

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. – If there’s one image this season that captures Joakim Noah officially as the NBA’s top defensive player and arguably as its most passionate and intense, it came in March. That’s when the Chicago Bulls center, switching off screens in a game against Miami at United Center, found himself squared up a couple of times against none other than LeBron James.

Noah, at 6-foot-11, did everything short of licking his chops. He bent low, locked James in a laser gaze and clapped his hands almost in the dangerous Heat star’s face.

There aren’t a lot of men his size who could make that look good. But Noah knows a thing or two about defensive stances when facing opponents big and small. He even teased a little about the one atop the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, which he received Monday: Too flat-footed, a little unbalanced and obviously giving up some serious height.

Poking fun at the little bronze dude didn’t get in the way at all, though, of Noah’s appreciation of the honor, the first of the five Kia Performance Awards to be presented for NBA achievements in 2013-14.

Noah, 29, shared thoughts and stories with a ballroom of reporters and cameras, expressing gratitude to his family, all in attendance – his father, former tennis pro Yannick Noah; his mother Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978; and his siblings. He talked of the DPOY as a team award, giving shout-outs to his Bulls teammates for the adversity they’ve endured this season.

He dedicated the award to Tyrone Green, his basketball mentor and second-father figure during the years Noah grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. With his parents divorced, it was Green – a widely known figure in youth basketball in New York – who got credit and in time love from Noah for toughening up the gawky teenager of privilege he’d been. Green died unexpectedly last week at age 63, causing Noah to take a brief personal leave from the Bulls on the brink of their first-round series against Washington.

“This award goes to somebody who I’ll never forget, somebody who just passed and meant so much to me,” Noah said, acknowledging it still was hard to talk about his friend. “Somebody who believed in me. Mr. Green, I love you and I appreciate you, and I know you’re smiling down right now, really proud. This award goes to you.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah thanks his teammates, family and former coaches

Noah also spoke of the bond forged between him and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, away from the bright lights and the fans’ eyes, in all its nasty after-hours glory.

“I remember one day,” Noah said, “Thibs was putting me through a real brutal workout. I said, ‘If we weren’t winning games, I would really, really hate you.’ He said, ‘Trust me, Jo. I would feel the same way about you.’ “

It’s a symbiotic relationship, though, of the NBA’s most revered defensive coach and his surrogate on the court, now the league’s acclaimed best defender. No wonder Thibodeau was beaming like he needed to be passing out cigars.

“You can’t have a great defense without having great defensive players,” Thibodeau said. “He has a very unique skill set. And he’s a hard guy to measure statistically. But when you look at his athleticism, his intelligence, his ability to communicate and guard every position on the floor, that gives you a lot of weapons. And he helps sell it to the team. To me, that’s huge.”

Noah received 100 first-place votes from the panel of 125 NBA writers and broadcasters who cast ballots and got 555 points of a maximum 625 for any player. Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and the L.A. Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan each got eight first-place votes and finished second (166 points) and third (121), respectively.

Chicago ranked second in the NBA with a defensive rating of 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, second in defensive field-goal percentage (43.0) and first in points allowed per game, 91.8. Noah had a league-best defensive rating of 96, according to basketball-reference.com, while averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.51 blocks and 1.24 steals.

Ironically, Noah earned the defensive award – he’s the first Bulls player to win it since Michael Jordan in 1988 – in a season in which his offensive game blossomed. With Derrick Rose suffering a second season-ending injury in November and leading scorer Luol Deng getting traded in January, the Bulls turned Noah as a “point center.” His passing ability, his court vision, his ball handling and the way he runs the floor reached new levels, and his awkward jump shot – dubbed “The Tornado” for its sideways rotation – has become more reliable by the day.

Still, it is Noah’s work at the other end that gives the Bulls their foundation and earned the DPOY. He protects the rim, sure, but his help defense is so schooled as to become instinctive, and he can switch onto smaller players as well as any big man since Kevin Garnett in his prime.

Some of the attributes Noah flexes defensively come from training he did as a boy alongside his father, the tennis great. “Subconsciously, I think it taught me a work ethic,” Noah said. “My father taught me how to jump rope, and I don’t think a lot of big guys are jumping rope.”

His years in New York with Green made him humble – he was a ball boy at the famous ABCD youth camp in New Jersey, fetching rebounds for James and other more-heralded kids – but set him on his path to the University of Florida and two NCAA titles with the Gators.

That’s where the basketball public caught a glimpse of Noah’s burning, team-first intensity, which still flames up on NBA courts on crucial defensive stops or at the final horn in victories. Distilling the emotions from his performances wouldn’t leave much – they’re vital, Thibodeau said, in the way he moves, in the way he recovers.

“Like the thing he talked about with his dad, he’s got unbelievable feet and great, great stamina,” the Bulls coach said. “So what it leads to is his ability to make multiple efforts. You’ll see three, four, five. There are balls he can get to that, when you’re watching, you’re amazed. He gets hit, he’ll keep going, he’ll dive out of bounds, he’ll save it.

“Those things to me are the best leadership that you can have. When another player sees that kind of effort, that does nothing but unite and inspire your team. That brings energy to your team.”

Being contagious on that end might give Noah his greatest defensive satisfaction.

“You have to really commit, sacrifice,” he said. “I just think about so many plays defensively that some of my teammates made. You might even think about a guy like Mike Dunleavy, he’s not known for his defense. There was a time during the year where he got a big gash on his head, got like 10 stictches, and came back in the third quarter. First play he takes a charge.

“He’ll never be remembered as a defensive player, but that means everything. Somebody who’s ready to sacrifice his body to win.”

Nene says no-no to Chicago’s defense

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards claim series opener in Chicago

CHICAGO – Nene, the Washington Wizards’ big man by way of Sao Carlos, Brazil, was having trouble Saturday night and Sunday morning. He couldn’t sleep. The 2014 NBA playoffs were soon to start for his team and Nene – already thrilled about coming back from a left knee sprain – didn’t know which was pumping faster: his heart or the adrenaline.

“The mental preparation is very important. Last night I couldn’t sleep well, because I started to think about the game in the middle of the night,” he said Sunday at United Center, the Wizards’ 102-93 road victory over the Chicago Bulls tucked in for the night.

“I started to think about what I was going to do. How I was going to defend. I was very excited about the playoffs. It’s a good feeling because that makes you prepare yourself. I hope I can’t sleep again, to play better.”

Sorry, Nene, but the Bulls will be in charge of the tossing and turning for the next couple of nights.

Starting for the first time since February, Nene made a big difference for the Wizards size-wise, impact-wise and excitement-wise in their first playoff game since 2008. He stepped back into the middle of their action seamlessly, scoring 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists.

His aggressiveness became their aggressiveness, and Washington wound up picking apart Chicago’s vaunted defense in several uncommon ways. Teams don’t shoot 50 percent against the Bulls – but the Wizards nearly did so in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. Their 48.6 percent was close enough, and if you combine it with the Wizards’ two January victories over Chicago, it left them at a legit 50.4 percent (115-for-228) in the three games.


VIDEO: Nene talks about winning Game 1

Bulls opponents hit half their shots or better just 12 times in 82 games but went 10-2 as their reward. If you go strictly by what Washington shot Sunday and only in postseason games, the Bulls are 1-19 since the start of the 2006 playoffs when the other guys are at 48 percent or higher.

Key to that? They embrace their third options, because they know the Bulls are going to take away the first two.

“You can’t predetermine anything,” coach Randy Wittman said. “You can’t make up your mind on a certain play that you’re going to do this. They’re so good defensively, you’ve got to react to what they’re doing. Make the simple plays and the ball moves in simple ways. When we do that, we get pretty good shots. And we’ve got guys who can shoot.

“As soon as you say ‘I’m going to split this pick-and-roll here,’ it’s a turnover. When we don’t do that, when we don’t anticipate and just react to what the defense does and what they want to take away and then go your second or third option, then we’re pretty good.”

The Wizards’ ability to read-and-react kicked in fully after halftime. They fell behind by 13 points in the first few minutes of the third, then outscored Chicago 51-29 the rest of the way. While the points-challenged Bulls shot just 39.5 percent over the final two quarters, the Wizards settled in, hitting half of their 38 attempts and, oh yeah, dominating the boards 24-15.

Nene was especially effective, with a versatility on the offensive end that kept Chicago guessing. He was reliable with his mid-range jump shot, attacked the rim multiple times and, particularly in the second half, was a crafty passer (with a couple of hockey assists mixed in).

Overall, he made life pretty difficult for Bulls center Joakim Noah, one of the favorites for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Good thing the ballots were all cast by Thursday.

Tom Thibodeau, who routinely has the sort of sleepless nights Nene experienced this weekend, lavished praise on the Wizards’ big man, even as he began plotting ways to thwart him. It won’t be easy – Washington was 30-23 when Nene played this season, 14-15 when he did not.

This was only the fourth time in 45 playoff games that he scored as many as 20 points. But he’s healthy now and doesn’t plan on missing any more games. Or fun.

“Today I feel fantastic. First of all, it’s a special day for all of us. It’s Easter Day,” Nene said. “For all humans, it’s a big day. You know, salvation day. And to be able to play playoffs on this specific day is double-blessed.”

Restoring Nene to his rightful spot, next to Wizards center Marcin Gortat, makes them double trouble. Neither big man got in the other’s way in Game 1 – in fact, after a slow start, Gortat finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, 12 and eight in the second half.

“I’m just trying to play off Nene,” Gortat said. “The most important thing is, we not run into each other in the game. Most of the time he’s on the other side of the block – wherever I am, he’s on the other side. The system we have is perfect for both of us. Each one of us is getting to a sweet spot where we can play our game.

“If I start scoring on the pick-and-rolls or put-backs, they’re going to focus a little bit more on me. That opens up things for him. He’s so aggressive, so dominant in the low post that he can create a lot of things for us.”

What Nene created for the Wizards in Game 1, with his scoring, his energy, his passing and his joy of playing again, was hope. Precisely the thing Chicago had hoped to quash.

Numbers preview: Bulls-Wizards

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: East Playoff Preview: Bulls vs. Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat hold the top two seeds, but six Eastern Conference teams had better records after the All-Star break. Two of those teams will meet in the 4-5 series.

The Chicago Bulls have once again overcome the loss of Derrick Rose. But they’ve also been better since trading Luol Deng than they were before. The Washington Wizards have been solid all season, ending a five year playoff drought with a top-10 defense and one of the league’s most improved offenses.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the 4 and 5 seeds in the East, as well as the three regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Chicago Bulls (48-34)

Pace: 92.7 (28)
OffRtg: 99.7 (28)
DefRtg: 97.8 (2)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls notes:

Washington Wizards (44-38)

Pace: 95.5 (19)
OffRtg: 103.3 (18)
DefRtg: 102.4 (10)
NetRtg: +0.9 (15)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards notes:

The matchup

Season series: Wizards won 2-1 (1-1 at Washington)
Pace: 90.8
CHI OffRtg: 102.3 (15th vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 100.6 (8th vs. CHI)

Matchup notes:

MVP only half the battle for Durant

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has more than just the MVP trophy on his mind this year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kevin Durant really was tired of being No. 2, finishing second, being a groomsman and never the … you get where this is going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder star declared earlier this season that he was tired of leading a life filled with being second best, dating as far back to his prep days to Draft night and all the way through his first six seasons in the NBA, he meant every word.

Once the ballots come in for the KIA MVP Award, Durant should finally be able to shed that No. 2 label. He’s already achieved as much in our eyes, topping reigning back-to-back and four-time MVP LeBron James and the rest of a star-studded field for the No. 1 spot on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder.

Durant has already claimed his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons. But has he played his way into that intergalactic category with some of the other universal superstars — James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett rank among the active MVP or Finals MVPs still in business today?

Could be. He certainly has all of the credentials necessary for inclusion … well, everything but the official word that he is the most valuable player in the NBA. And even that might not be enough validation for Durant, who holds himself to a championship standard.

NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell agrees that Durant has only finished half the battle, provided he walks off with KIA MVP honors. Oh yes, there’s definitely more to be done this season …

Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant will win his first ever Most Valuable Player award.

Durant is average career highs in points (32.0) and assists (5.5) while shooting 50.5% from the field. K.D. winning the award may come as no surprise but the odds of him doing so in route to winning a title may shock you.

Since the inception of the MVP award (1955-56), the hardware has been handed out 57 times. There have been 36 players to win the award however only seven first time MVP winners went on to win a title in the same season.

​Surely Durant can make it eight but it’s been 20 years since we’ve last seen it done. The 1993-94 award went to Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon after which he led them to their first of two NBA titles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the other six players to join Olajuwon in this feat are no doubt Hall-of-Famers (as seen below) but there are many other legends that didn’t make the cut.

First Time MVPs to win a title in same season
56-57–Bob Cousy (Celtics)
69-70–Willis Reed (Knicks)
70-71–Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as Lew Alcindor)- Bucks
83-84–Larry Bird (Celtics)
86-87–Magic Johnson (Lakers)
99-00–Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers)
93-94–Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets)

​Keep in mind 5-time MVP Michael Jordan was occupied with batting cages when Olajuwon won in 1994. As for Durant, former MVPs Tim Duncan and LeBron James still stands in his way.

Consider this, despite the greatness of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jordan, Duncan and James, none of those luminaries were able to win a title the same year they captured their first MVP award.

​There’s so much energy exerted throughout an 82-game season, one can only imagine how tough it would be for a player to win the MVP award for the first time and have enough left for the post season. The edge for Durant may be his 2012 Finals appearance, which resulted in disappointment and ultimately the fuel needed to elevate his game to another level.

​Let me be the first to congratulate Durant and lead the applause on becoming the 37th different player to be named League MVP. It truly is an honor.

So prepare for your twitter mentions to hit a new high.

However, if @KDtrey5 can find a way to become the eighth player to win his first MVP award and a title in the same season, his mentions will far surpass social media.

#All-TimeGreats


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up fantasty-like numbers all season for the Thunder

Blogtable: Can’t miss this

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.


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ


San Antonio's Tim Duncan has played in 211 playoff games in his illustrious career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan has played in 211 playoff games in his illustrious career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> A quick look forward: Other than KD and LeBron, who’s your can’t-miss performer for these playoffs?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comTony Parker. No more resting, no more worries about point-guard rankings as individuals. None of that. Parker gets to quarterback the San Antonio push through the playoffs, and given his experience and the tools at his disposal, I think he’s going to remind people how valuable he really is.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBlake Griffin.  He’s taken his game to the next level and forced his way into the MVP conversation.  If he keeps it up in the playoffs, the Clippers are a real threat in the West.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comChris Paul. He’s the rare superstar lacking a championship who doesn’t get hassled for having not won one. Think about that. That’s all we do is ask when so-and-so is going to finally win a title? CP3′s in his ninth season yet seems to stay removed from that discussion. He’s made it out of the first round only twice, in 2008 with New Orleans on a team with Tyson Chandler, David West and Peja Stojakovic that lost to San Antonio in Game 7 of the semis, and then his first season with the Clippers when they were swept by the Spurs. A run to the conference finals looks like it will take getting through Golden State and then Oklahoma City, a mighty task indeed, but it’s time for this superstar to get there.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHyland DeAndre Jordan Jr., Clippers. Already putting up big rebounding numbers and on a hot streak with blocks, now he may get the gift beginning of a first round with the Warriors down Andrew Bogut and, still, Festus Ezeli. With the pace Golden State and L.A. play at, a 20-rebound game by Jordan is very realistic. And even if the Clippers open against someone else, Jordan will continue his regular-season impact anyway.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTim Duncan. At some point, this ride has to end, and we should appreciate the best player of his generation as much as we can, while we can. As a whole, the Spurs are brilliant, but it all starts with Duncan’s leadership and play on both ends of the floor. It will also be fascinating to see if they can get back to where they were last year and somehow redeem themselves for Game 6 and, for Duncan, the missed bunny in Game 7.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are a number of players I’m expecting to show up and show out in the playoffs, the leading two candidates for MVP, of course, headline the list. But I’ve enjoyed watching Joakim Noah perform as much as I have any single player in the league this season. His playoff breakout came last year, when the Bulls surprised us with that epic effort in that seven-game series against Brooklyn. Noah’s a better player now than he was then and I can see him chasing a triple-double every night in these playoffs. No one brings more raw energy and effort to the party than the Bulls’ big man.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: It’s not exactly like he’s overlooked, but one player I traditionally love watching in the postseason is Chris Paul. The game slows down, offenses become more halfcourt-based, and having a floor general like Paul becomes essential. As great as Paul is during the season, he turns up in the postseason and finds another level. It’s the playoffs where Paul takes over games, threatening triple-doubles and commanding games. And that’s must see TV.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Blake Griffin. His mid-range game, his post play and his athleticism all make him compulsory viewing material. Also, Griffin — who has been at the receiving end of some really hard fouls right through the regular season — will have his patience tested, perhaps, more severely in the playoffs. It would be interesting to see how he responds in the pressure cooker environment that are the playoffs. Chris Paul is undoubtedly the nerve center of the Clippers, but Griffin has to play big if the Clippers are to have a great run.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: I think it will be fun to watch Dirk Nowitzki. He has been relatively healthy all-season long, and after the Dallas’ absence last year Dirk knows he only has a couple of playoff runs left in him. He will surely try to make the most out of it. And with that sweet stroke and unstoppable one-foot fadeaway, it will be fun to watch him torment defenders on the big stage again. DeMar DeRozan is another player to watch out for, the athletic swingman could use the playoffs as his spring board to stardom a la Paul George and provide the fans a showcase of his vastly improved skills.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I don’t know how we should leave Paul George out of the equation. Especially after last year’s games against the Heat. Or Tim Duncan. He had a phenomenal regular season and it’s really interesting to see if he can carry on his second youth during the postseason.

Defensive Player: Do-it-all Joakim Noah

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joakim Noah is a nominee for April’s Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month

My choice for Kia Defensive Player of the Year does not lead the NBA in rebounding, blocks, steals — any of the categories that for years were traditionally cited when considering the best defensive players in the NBA.

That said, it is easy to defend the choice of Joakim Noah as Defensive Player of the Year because he’s been the linchpin defender for a team that ranks as one of the best in the NBA. This selection was influenced in many ways by the always-unreliable eye test: Noah looks like he defends harder than anyone else, reading the opponents plays, heartily embracing the challenge of stopping whichever player he is asked to defend each night, clapping his hands, using defense to fuel his intensity.

Considering what they have been through this season — losing Derrick Rose to injury, trading away Luol Deng; the Bulls have basically held this season together with twine and strategically placed scotch tape — the Bulls have needed Noah like never before. And Noah has been the straw that stirs the drink. As Houston coach Kevin McHale said about Noah a few weeks back, “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

These are also all qualities that aren’t easily quantifiable. So just to make sure my eyes weren’t lying to me, I checked with our stat guru John Schuhmann to see if the numbers matched my brain. I asked Schuh for a few advanced stats that needed to be considered when selecting the best defensive player. John initially mentioned team defense: As of today, the Bulls have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, at 97.8. John also mentioned looking at the plus/minus numbers for the players I was considering. The Bulls are +4 when Noah’s on the court, and -3.6 when he’s off the court.

Finally, John said, to measure the effect of a big, look at how they defend at the rim: Noah ranks 12th in the NBA. Noah also has shattered his career high in rebounds with 877 total, which includes (as of today) 600 defensive boards; his previous season high was 484 defensive rebounds.

What really underscores his value is that Noah is versatile enough to step out and defend stretch fours on the perimeter, while also able to dig in and bang with bigs on the interior. Noah can do almost everything on the defensive end, and if there’s something he can’t do, he doesn’t seem to notice, giving the type of effort that coaches dream about. Noah does all of this with terrific consistency, working his butt off night after night, like a physical manifestation of coach Tom Thibodeau’s raspy verbal exhortations.

• For me, the player who came closest to beating out Noah for this award was Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. Hibbert is probably the NBA’s best rim defender, but his rebounding numbers have plummeted the last few months, and as the Pacers have struggled the last few weeks, particularly on offense, they haven’t been able to look to defense to sustain them.

• Other bigs in the mix for this award? Besides Hibbert and Noah, I also considered DeAndre Jordan, Andrew Bogut, Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol.

• As far as perimeter players go, numbers make a bold case for Andre Iguodala. As Schuhmann pointed out in his Defensive Player of the Year By the Numbers post, with Iggy on the court, Golden State holds opponents to 6.5 fewer points than when he’s not on the court. Iguodala has helped the Warriors become a top-5 defensive team.

Paul George and LeBron James round out my list of best all-around perimeter defenders. As of Monday, George was tied with Noah for the lead in Defensive Win Shares at 6.4.

• Finally, I don’t think his defense will earn him a place among the top five defenders, but if I had to choose a player who I find to be the most fun player to watch play defense, that nod would go to Houston’s Patrick Beverley.

Most Improved Player: Gerald Green

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns forward Gerald Green has provided plenty of highlights this season

No question, the Kia Most Improved Player Award is the most difficult of the awards to choose, and consequently the most debatable. It can keep the picker tossing and turning for nights on end.

What exactly are the parameters here? And, frankly, whatever the parameters, there’s a sizable group of guys who certainly seem eligible.

Should Kevin Love, already an All-Star, be under consideration because he missed the majority of last season with a twice broken hand and has come back with the best statistical season of his career? Or is such improvement expected from an establishled All-Star?

What about New Orleans’ second-year forward-center Anthony Davis. What a season he’s had. Except, do we also expect such improvement from the No. 1 overall pick?

Should Suns second-year center Miles Plumlee get a serious look? He’s been a solid starter from Day 1 after sitting for 68 of 82 games as a rookie with Indiana. There’s simply no data for comparison. Or, is that the ultimate comparison?

Electrifying dunk artist, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, has past data to compare, and this season compares remarkably favorably. Then there’s Oklahoma City point guard Reggie Jackson, Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Pheonix’s Goran Dragic.

Speaking of Phoenix, it realistically has four candidates — Plumlee, Dragic, Markieff Morris and Gerald Green.

Wait, stop right there: Green.

Yes. The, lanky 6-foot-8 wing debuted in the league in 2005. Eight years later, he’s rocketed straight out of the blue. That’s improvement.

Green, 28, was the 18th overall pick of the Boston Celtics. After two seasons he was traded to Minnesota, then traded to Houston, waived by Houston, signed by Dallas and out of the league before he turned 24. Out of options in the NBA, he played in Russia for two years and another in China. He came home, played in the NBA D-League and finally got another shot in the NBA in the second half of the 2011-12 lockout season with the Nets.

He played well enough to sign a three-year contract with Eastern Conference power Indiana. He fell out of the rotation last year, and just prior to this season got traded, along with Plumlee and a first-round draft pick, to rebuilding Phoenix.

Poof. Green is legit.

Once a freakish athlete that lacked court awareness, Green still isn’t exactly a textbook on fundamentals, but he is more mature and more in control as he mixes gravity-defying dunks with dribble drives, high-rising mid-range fallaways and deep, deep daggers.

“Gerald Green, if he’s hot, he can score with the best of them in this league,” Mavericks sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki said.

How’s this for scoring: Since the All-Star break, with every game mounting in importance as Phoenix still guns for a playoff spot entering Monday night’s crucial Game No. 81 against Memphis, Green is averaging 19.1 ppg on 45.4 percent shooting overall and 43.1 percent from beyond the arc in 29.6 mpg. His effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) — adjusted to account for 3-pointers being more valuable than 2-pointers) in that span is 54.8 percent.

Green’s season scoring average (15.9 ppg) is more than double what it was last year with the Pacers (7.0). He’s played in all 80 games, starting 47 times in injury situations. In Indiana’s slower, halfcourt-based offense, Green shot 36.6 percent overall and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc. Unleashed in first-year coach Jeff Hornacek‘s up-tempo attack, he’s blistering opponents from deep at 40-percent clip, while shooting 44.5 percent overall.

Hornacek has proven to be the perfect coach for Green, patient through mistakes and poor decisions, and always keeping the shooting light green.

“We wanted to go up and down [the floor], and try to make the team younger and more athletic and shoot a lot of 3s,” first-year Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said earlier this season. “And Gerald checked all of those boxes.”

Check.

Five contenders

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The sixth-year center has come of age, leading the league in field-goal percentage (67.5 percent) and rebounds (13.7 per game) — practically doubling his total rebounding from last season (7.2). He’s also averaging a career-best 10.4 ppg.

Goran Dragic, Suns – “The Dragon” has had a brilliant season after making room for fellow point guard Eric Bledsoe. Dragic easily could have been a Western Conference All-Star as he’s been the Suns’ MVP, 20.4 ppg and 5.9 apg while shooting 50.6 percent overall and 41.5 percent from deep.

Markieff Morris, Suns – Also a Sixth Man of the Year Award candidate, averaging career-highs by a wide margin with 13.7 ppg and 6.1 rpg. He’s transformed himself into a dangerous mid-range shooter, making 48.3 percent of his shots, up from 40.7 percent last season and 39.9 percent as a rookie.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers – Who had Stephenson pegged as the league-leader in triple-doubles or the Pacers leading rebounder at 7.2 rpg? He notched his fifth triple-double with Sunday’s 17-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist effort to knock of Oklahoma City to break a triple-double tie with All-Stars Stephen Curry and Joakim Noah.

Reggie Jackson, Thunder – He got his training on the fly during the 2013 postseason. Since then, he’s provided the Thunder with stability and scoring off the bench … and as a starter during Russell Westbrook‘s injuries this season. Jackson is averaging 13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg and 3.9 rpg in 28.5 mpg. He averaged 14.2 mpg last season.

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Defensive Player of the Year by the numbers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have been key cogs in the Warriors' defense. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have been key cogs in the Warriors’ defense. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Defense is difficult to quantify.

In the boxscore, we have steals and blocks, which don’t really tell us much. Two of the league’s top five in total steals plus blocks – Josh Smith and Andre Drummond – are Pistons. The Pistons are awful defensively and worse when Smith and Drummond are on the floor together than they are when one or both is off the floor.

NBA.com/stats tells us how many points per 100 possessions a player’s team has allowed when he was on the floor, a category dominated by players on the league’s best defensive teams.

To be considered for the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, you should be on a good defensive team. The last player to win the award that wasn’t on a team that ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency was Dikembe Mutombo in 1997-98. And 12 of the 15 winners since then (including each of the last six) played for teams that ranked in the top five.

And you can find plenty of great defensive players in this season’s top five teams in defensive efficiency. Indiana (1) has both Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Chicago (2) has Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Golden State (3) has Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. Oklahoma City (5) has Serge Ibaka.

It’s hard to pick a Spur for DPOY candidacy when none of them have averaged 30 minutes per game. Beyond the top five defensive teams, Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan could be candidates. Their teams all rank in the top 12 in defensive efficiency, and Howard’s Rockets have only dropped out of the top 10 since he started missing games.

This season, we have SportVU data to tell us how well opponents shoot near the basket when a player is there defending it. And we can supplement that with data on how often opponents actually shoot near the basket when that player is on the floor. Big guys should get credit for keeping the other team away from the basket, after all.

All stats are through April 7, 2014.

Big men DPOY candidates, defending the rim

Player %FGA Rank1 FG% Rank2
Andrew Bogut 27.5% 1 45.5% 7
Chris Bosh 32.1% 34 52.5% 39
Marc Gasol 30.3% 20 50.4% 24
Taj Gibson 31.1% 27 45.0% 6
Roy Hibbert 28.3% 4 41.7% 1
Dwight Howard 30.7% 24 47.8% 13
Serge Ibaka 34.2% 53 44.3% 3
DeAndre Jordan 31.9% 32 49.4% 19
Joakim Noah 29.6% 13 46.1% 8

%FGA = Percentage of opponent shots taken from the restricted area with player on the floor.
Rank1 = Among 72 bigs who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 opponent shots.
FG% = Opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim while player is defending it.
Rank2 = Among 58 players who have defended at least 5.0 shots at the rim per game for at least 50 games.

There’s more to defense than protecting the rim, though. For a big man to be an impact defender, he has to be able to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. This is where a guy like Bosh can show his value on a team that defends like the Heat. It’s also where a guy like Drummond still has a lot of work to do.

SportVU has numbers on how efficiently opponents have scored when a player is the help defender on pick-and-roll.

Big men DPOY candidates, defending pick-and-rolls

Help Defender Screens Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Andrew Bogut 725 688 624 0.91
Chris Bosh 1,120 1,063 1,051 0.99
Marc Gasol 765 726 759 1.05
Taj Gibson 715 695 699 1.01
Roy Hibbert 1,159 1,111 1,026 0.92
Dwight Howard 1,343 1,271 1,293 1.02
Serge Ibaka 961 924 925 1.00
DeAndre Jordan 1,494 1,441 1,500 1.04
Joakim Noah 974 939 879 0.94

There’s a lot that goes into these numbers. They’re from all possessions in which that player defended a ball-screen and the results (a score or no score) could be several passes away. So they do depend on his teammates quite a bit. Still, we can see that Bogut, Hibbert and Noah have distinguished themselves as both rim protectors and pick-and-roll defenders.

The other thing we can look at his how much of an impact these guys make on their team defensive numbers.

DPOY candidates, on and off the court

On floor Off floor Difference
Player MIN DefRtg MIN DefRtg DefRtg Rank
Andre Iguodala 1,976 96.6 1,745 103.1 -6.5 9
Chris Bosh 2,395 100.8 1,293 105.7 -4.9 20
Paul George 2,823 95.9 941 97.8 -1.9 74
Roy Hibbert 2,331 95.6 1,433 97.5 -1.9 76
Dwight Howard 2,310 102.1 1,368 103.5 -1.3 90
Andrew Bogut 1,688 99.1 2,033 100.2 -1.1 98
Taj Gibson 2,216 97.2 1,525 98.2 -0.9 105
Joakim Noah 2,619 97.5 1,122 97.9 -0.4 114
DeAndre Jordan 2,766 102.0 993 101.4 +0.6 139
Marc Gasol 1,775 102.8 1,941 101.5 +1.3 150
Serge Ibaka 2,475 101.3 1,198 99.8 +1.4 154

Rank = Among 239 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes for a single team

If a team has better defensive numbers when a player is off the floor, it doesn’t mean that he’s a bad defender. The Thunder are typically defending the opponents’ best players when Ibaka is on the floor and their subs when he’s off.

Who these guys are being replaced with also plays a role. Hibbert’s the best rim protector in the league, but Ian Mahinmi is also a very good defender.

But the on-off court numbers make a strong case for Iguodala. The Warriors have been a much better defensive team with Iguodala on the floor and Bogut off than vice versa. Opponent shooting numbers, when you compare Iguodala to some of the league’s other good defenders at the small forward position, also make a case.

Top five small forward scorers* with defender on the floor

On floor FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTA PTS eFG% TS%
Luol Deng 68 180 37.8% 21 57 36.8% 61 208 43.6% 50.3%
Paul George 82 170 48.2% 11 30 36.7% 62 232 51.5% 58.8%
Andre Iguodala 65 156 41.7% 17 43 39.5% 48 185 47.1% 52.2%
LeBron James 97 210 46.2% 24 67 35.8% 73 272 51.9% 56.2%
Kawhi Leonard 64 139 46.0% 8 26 30.8% 51 179 48.9% 55.4%

* Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Paul George and Rudy Gay
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Ron Artest (2003-04) and Gary Payton (1995-96) are the only perimeter players to win Defensive Player of the Year in the last 25 years. And it’s hard to argue against a pick of either Hibbert or Noah as the anchors of the two best defensive teams in the league.

But Iguodala should definitely be in the conversation. He’s the biggest reason why the Warriors have jumped from 13th in defensive efficiency last season to third this year, and why the Denver Nuggets have gone in the opposite direction (from 11th to 21st).

Blogtable: Your All-NBA first team center

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.


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not Joakim Noah is an All-NBA first team center

> Who’s your pick for first team all-NBA at center? Do you have a dark horse nominee?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Joakim Noah. Noah has been doing everything an NBA coach wants from a center – and more. He leads the Bulls in minutes, rebounds, assists, blocks and free-throw attempts – Dwight Howard leads Houston only in rebounds and blocks – and Noah ranks second on Chicago’s roster in steals. And did you notice “assists” on that list? Noah has been a true “point-center” in Tom Thibodeau‘s offense, picking up where Derrick Rose left off as a playmaker, finding cutters, resetting plays and driving to the rim when needed. He is hitting career highs in PER (20.0) and usage rate (18.6) and he leads all players, not just centers, with a 95.7 defensive rating.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Dwight Howard. He has returned to his old Orlando-type form and has been the most consistent big man in the league. Noah gets some love for being the lead horse that kept the Bulls in the playoff race despite Chicago’s many injuries and trades this season.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Tough, tough call. My top three picks were Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Al Jefferson. I eliminated Jefferson first for defensive reasons — he has only 74 blocks and has allowed 53.3 percent shooting at the rim. Through much consternation my first team all-NBA center is … Dwight. His 18.5 ppg on 59 percent shooting, 12.3 rpg and 7.4 net rating put him over the top. The do-it-all Noah has a net rating of 3.8, but a slightly higher PIE than Howard. He doesn’t score as much as Howard, but he runs the offense like a point guard and leads the Bulls in assists at 5.2 — that he only turns it over 2.4 times a game is in itself remarkable. As for a dark horse, is Anthony Davis a center? I love DeMarcus Cousins‘ offensive package, but his defense is more on par with Jefferson. DeAndre Jordan‘s 191 blocks, 13.8 rpg and 67.4 percent shooting make him my dark horse.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Joakim Noah over Dwight Howard, eye test over statistics. Howard has better numbers in most categories and his positive impact in Houston cannot be denied even by the biggest D12 detractors, but Noah will get a lot of votes for third, fourth and fifth place in the MVP balloting. Rightfully so. He has set the tone for a team that continues to win with defense and deserves credit on offense for becoming such a good passer. I guess that makes everyone a dark-horse nominee. DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah is, by far, the best and most important player on a top 4 seed. He’s the anchor of the Bulls’ second-ranked defense and though their offense stinks, it would be awful without him. Dwight Howard should be the second-team center, and after that, it’s hard to choose between Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert and Al Jefferson. Bosh is the second-most important player on a team that’s won 53 games, Hibbert has anchored the league’s No. 1 defense, and Jefferson has carried an offense that has improved every month.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with Chicago’s Joakim Noah. I think he’s put together the kind of season (on both ends of the floor) that makes him worthy of a first team all-NBA nod in what’s really a crowded big man field. Plus, when you consider the fact that he’s done it all season without being able to play off of an All-Star and MVP like Derrick Rose, that makes Noah’s effort this season even more remarkable. My dark horse nominee is Charlotte’s Al Jefferson. He’s been the anchor for a turnaround that simply would not have happened if he wasn’t wearing a Charlotte Bobcats uniform.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I don’t know how dark this horse is, and I haven’t filled out my ballot yet so I might change my mind, but I think Joakim Noah is my choice. Noah, Hibbert and Howard are, in my mind, the best defensive centers in the NBA. And while none of the three have been transcendent offensively, they’ve all been at least coherent. What sets Noah apart, at least to me, is that unlike the others, Noah is the undisputed heart of his team. With all the injuries and trades the Bulls have had this season, Noah has still come to play every night, and he never takes a play off.