Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Grizzlies missing their grit and grind


VIDEO: Fan Night: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol explain the Grizzlies’ offense

ATLANTA – The Memphis Grizzlies are reportedly looking for an upgrade on the wing.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein wrote Thursday that the Grizz have been working the phones, looking for a small forward that can help them in the brutal Western Conference…

The Memphis Grizzlies, looking to bolster their scoring options on the wing in the ever-competitive Western Conference, are actively trying to obtain Miami’s Luol Deng or Boston’s Jeff Green ahead of the Feb. 19 trade deadline, according to league sources.

No deal is imminent, sources said, but it has become clear that the Grizzlies are intent on upgrading their wing rotation. The teams behind third-place Memphis (25-10) in the Western Conference standings already have made notable in-season additions — such as Dallas (Rajon Rondo) and Houston (Corey Brewer and Josh Smith) — and Oklahoma City has yet to move into playoff position.

Green is much more obtainable, but doesn’t necessarily move the needle on either end of the floor. In fact, the Celtics have been much better both offensively and defensively with Green off the floor this season … as they were last season.

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At 25-10, the Grizzlies are in third place in the Western Conference. Only two West teams — Golden State (fourth offensively and first defensively) and Portland (sixth and third) — rank higher than they do (11th and 11th) on both ends of the floor. They’re one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) that ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the past four seasons, and this is the best offense (scoring 1.9 points per 100 possessions more than the league average) in franchise history).

But things have been trending the wrong way for the Grizzlies of late, especially on defense.

Through November, the Grizzlies ranked fourth defensively, allowing just 97.8 points per 100 possessions. But since Dec. 1, they’ve ranked 22nd, having allowed 105.9. That drop-off of 8.1 is the largest in the league, though the Spurs (7.9) have come close.

Strength of schedule hasn’t really been a factor. The average OffRtg of their October-November opponents was 103.5, while the average OffRtg of their December-January opponents has been 103.5.

Injuries have played a role. Tony Allen missed four games in the middle of December with a corneal abrasion, and Zach Randolph has missed the last nine games with a sore knee.

Z-Bo isn’t going to get any Defensive Player of the Year votes anytime soon. In his absence, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger has had to get a little creative offensively. He used three point guards together for the first time in Wednesday’s loss in Atlanta, because “we have to get another playmaker on the floor.”

But Randolph’s absence has meant that Memphis has had to play small most of the time. And generally, smaller lineups are not as good defensively as bigger ones. Tayshaun Prince defending fours is different than Tayshaun Prince defending threes.

“We’re playing some guys out of position, playing a little bit more small-ball than we generally do, mixing and matching some guys,” said Joerger before Wednesday’s game in Atlanta.

Prince also blames a lack of practice time in December.

“No matter how good you are defensively or how veteran-ized your team is,” he said Wednesday, “you still got to get some practice in to keep your mind set right. We haven’t been doing that lately.”

Joerger, meanwhile, thinks his team got a little too comfortable with how well it was playing offensively.

“We won some games by outscoring some people,” the coach said. “Sometimes you can gain confidence in that, and that’s a good thing to have, but then you can rely on that at times too.”

For a lot of different reasons, the Grizz lost their grit-and-grind identity. And with a 4-6 mark in their last 10 games, they have to get it back. You can blame one thing or the other, but a drop-off of more than nine points per 100 possessions is huge. As long as they have Prince, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, they should never be a bottom-10 defensive team for near six-week span.

“You can’t just point at one thing,” Gasol said. “It’s a multiple-factor thing. But if we don’t have good one-on-one defense, it’s tough to play. If we don’t keep the ball on the side of the floor, keep the ball away from the middle …

“The [key] to our whole defense is to keep the ball away from the middle and protect that paint. If we don’t pull guys in and do multiple efforts, one side, other side, it’s tough. It’s really tough, because you go, like we did against Denver [last Saturday], into emergency mode way too early.”

Randolph practiced on Thursday and says he will play in New Orleans tonight (8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans are one of two top-10 offensive teams the Grizz play this weekend (they’re home against Phoenix on Sunday), so their defense is going to be tested.

“We just got to get back to it,” Joerger said. “It’s not going to be one game. It has to be a process of two or three weeks where it’s got to be our focus.”

Blogtable: Where will Dirk finish?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEODirk Nowitzki is now the NBA’s No. 7 all-time scorer

> Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki has zoomed up to No. 7 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With two years left on his contract after this season (and who knows after that?) where do you think Dirk will settle on this list when all’s said and done?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I was in the visitors’ dressing room in Milwaukee last month when Nowitzki sat out a game (second of a back-to-back) he otherwise could have played in. His comment on that night of rest for his weary bones: “I want to play for the Mavericks for a long time, so…” Clearly he has no intention of stepping off the all-time points ladder anytime soon. But if he settles into, say, a 17 ppg scorer and manages his body through 70 games a year, that moves him along at about 1,500 points per season. That gets him past Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) and perhaps Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) but Micheal Jordan (32,292) might be a rung too high.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: As long as he stays healthy, I’m thinking Dirk won’t be ready to hang it up in two more years. He’s got Mark Cuban, who’ll keep pushing at the envelope to surround him with a roster that will keep the Mavs in playoff contention. So I’m going high and guessing that he does what would have been unthinkable when he was drafted back in 1998 and passes Michael Jordan, but tucks in behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant at No. 4.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnother spot for sure, past Shaquille O’Neal, and probably past Wilt Chamberlain to crash the top five. That’s remarkable real estate even for the staunchest Dirk backers. I wouldn’t count him out of No. 4 and Michael Jordan either. I just don’t think it’s an easy call at that point.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI say he finishes 5th at best and passes Wilt and Shaq. It’ll help to have Rajon Rondo around to get easier buckets (assuming Rondo sticks around after this season). Of course, we are also assuming Dirk stays healthy, something he has managed to do for much of his career.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDirk will get past Shaq next season, but unless he misses only a few games, he won’t catch Wilt on this contract. So the question really comes down to whether you think he’ll play another year (at the age of 39) after that. I’ll guess that he does, passes Wilt, and finishes at No. 5, where he’ll eventually be passed by LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGiven the way his career started, Dirk working his way into the top five will stand as a truly remarkable feat. I think he slides into the top four before it’s all said and done, not that I put a ton of stock into the top whatever when you get to the single digits on this list. Anyone in the top 40 all-time has done ridiculous work. The top 20 is unbelievable. The top 10 jaw-dropping. And that top five makes you one of the unquestioned greatest scorers in the history of the game, a Hall of Fame shoe-in and a guy in need of a statue outside of an arena somewhere around the league.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: If his team is in title contention, he’s healthy and he’s loving the life, then he could extend beyond 2017 because his length and skills would enable him to play for as long he likes. But he will be 39 at that time. Think about all of those hard private workouts that enable him to maintain his current level. We should be appreciating Nowitzki on the likelihood that we’ll never see anyone like him again after 2017, when he’ll probably retire as the No. 6 scorer, just behind Wilt Chamberlain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This question involves a lot of math and therefore heavily favors Schuhmann. Just wanted to point that out. Dirk is 36 years old and is averaging just over 18 points per game this season. Let’s assume he plays until he’s 40, so four more seasons including this one. Let’s also assume his scoring rate slows by a point each season, so he goes from 18 to 17 to 16 to 15. And let’s also guess there will be games missed due to injury, so let’s just say he averages about 65 games a season for four seasons. By my calculations, that’s: (18 x 65) + (17 x 65) + (16 x 65) + (15 x 65) = 4290

So, if Dirk scores 4,290 more points, he’ll have a total of 31,702 points, which would put him into fifth all-time, behind Michael Jordan and ahead of Wilt Chamberlain. This now concludes my one arithmetic problem for 2015.

Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

> Three of the NBA’s marquee franchises — Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers — are a combined 27-77 and hold little hope for short-term success. If these teams were stocks, which one would you buy, which one would you hold, and which one would you sell?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d buy more Lakers stock, hold what I have of the Knicks and sell my Celtics holdings. The Lakers have the greatest upside because of their culture and their climate — they’re the biggest free-agent magnet of the three thanks to their market and their recent history. Now that Phil Jackson has begun the serious demo work in New York, I think he and the Knicks can build something better, especially as Carmelo Anthony‘s dominance of the team begins to recede. As for that storied franchise in Boston, I’d invoke the phrase familiar to financial speculators: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I can’t convince you to take all three off my hands for, say, the Grizzlies? OK, if you’re forcing me to buy, I’ll take the Lakers. They’re still THE marquee team in the league and when Kobe Bryant finally does retire — looking more and more like after next season, for sure — they’ll have the salary cap space and the cachet that will let them start over. Not to mention a rehabbed Julius Randle and another high draft pick from this season. I’m holding the Celtics because I believe Danny Ainge has the right coach to build on in Brad Stevens, a future All-Star in Marcus Smart and a patient long-range plan. I’m selling the Knicks because, well, they’re the Knicks. After this salary dump this week, Phil Jackson will go into next summer with the space to sign two max level free agents, maybe three. if the cap takes a big leap. Trouble is, he’ll do the usual NY thing and after finding the possibility of luring LeBron James or Kevin Love from Cleveland a pipe dream and having LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol not willing to climb aboard the worst team in the league, Jackson will wind up grossly overpaying the likes of Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic and merely making the Knicks mediocre to good, but not contenders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHold the Lakers, hold the Celtics, sell the Knicks. (Why did you ever buy on the Knicks in the first place? No wonder you switched brokers.) Investing in the Lakers now looks bad because not only is it a lottery team, it’s a lottery team with one piece in place for the future and he is injured. (Julius Randle.) But I’d hang on to stock on a team in a destination city and Mitch Kupchak with a loud voice in management. It would not be a surprise if even the lottery Lakers bag a big free agent. The Celtics front office likewise has a proven track record, plus the best young pieces among the three. Boston also has the advantage of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Definitely buy the Celtics. They have seven extra first-rounders (some conditional) coming between now and 2018 and there isn’t a sluggish contract weighing down the salary cap. Plus, Boston remains a destination for free agents. Hold the Lakers. I realize they owe future picks to Phoenix and Orlando and Kobe is clogging up cap space, but they’re still the Lakers and somehow find a way to keep their pain to a minimum (I know, I know, GM Jerry West isn’t walking through that door). Sell the Knicks. Phil Jackson deserves a chance, but this team is cursed.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m buying the Celtics, because they have the best group of young players (by far), the most future picks, and the GM/coach combination that I have the most confidence in going forward. I’m holding the Lakers, because they have one Lottery pick already on board, maybe another on the way (it may go to Phoenix), and a shorter contract with their 30-plus, former league’s leading scorer who doesn’t fit the rebuilding timeline. And I’m selling the Knicks, because they have nothing beyond a 30-year-old forward they just signed to a five-year, $124 million contract (Carmelo Anthony), an unproven team president (Phil Jackson) and an unproven coach (Derek Fisher). Nothing’s guaranteed in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m buying Lakers’ stock, holding the Celtics’ stock and selling all of my Knicks stock. I know that the Lakers never stay down for long. It’s just not what they do as a franchise. They’ll do whatever takes to get back on track. They’ve operated that way and probably always will — provided there is a Buss in charge. The Celtics have some decent pieces and a bright, young coach in Brad Stevens. They just need time to figure it all out. The Knicks have no business being in this marquee mix with the Lakers and Celtics. They haven’t come close to the championship success the other two have enjoyed in recent years. I’m selling on them until Phil Jackson works his Zen magic and convinces another superstar to join Carmelo Anthony in the seemingly eternal quest to return the Knicks to their 1970s glory.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would buy the Celtics, who are fully committed to rebuilding and are two years into the business of asset (Draft picks, young players and cap space) aggregation. I would hold the Lakers, who — eventually — will draw the interest of free agents. And I would sell the Knicks, who after so many self-destructive years are unworthy of faith until they themselves prove otherwise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: SELL, SELL, SELL! OK, to really answer your question, I’d buy the Celtics, hold the Knicks and sell the Lakers. Danny Ainge gets the benefit of the doubt in Boston because we’ve seen him reboot his franchise before, plus the Celtics have five first-round picks in the next two Drafts. That’s a heckuva place to start. I know the Knicks are terrible this season, but I like the direction Phil Jackson’s going — bottoming out before building back up. That starts with clearing salary and getting young players in to learn the triangle offense and grow along with the franchise. With the Lakers, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. They’ve tried to rebuild through free agency but the current management hasn’t shown an ability to recruit the marquee free agents we keep hearing about them going after.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEONBA TV’s crew discusses the three-team trade

> Cleveland’s deal for Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith was made, seemingly, to shore up some holes on defense. Mission accomplished? Or more to come?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIf the Cavaliers are done sprucing up their roster defensively, then I think they’re done, period, as a serious contender this season. It’s not like I expect them to lure Dikembe Mutombo out of retirement and coax assistant coach James Posey back into uniform, but they’re going to have trouble coughing up from within the proper defensive intensity, on the fly, in what’s left of the season. Rim defense in particular is needed, and no one on the current roster (with Anderson Varejao out) is capable of filling that void. As for finding one of those much coveted 7-foot shot swatters walking around outside the arena, good luck with that. The Cavs need to make another deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDefinitely not. From the beginning of the season the Cavs have been short on big men and the loss of Anderson Varejao for the season only exacerbated the problem. More than one hole in the hull of the S.S. LeBron. Still need bigs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comMission accomplished to get away from Dion Waiters. Maybe Shumpert makes the Cavs better on defense, but the primary goal was addition by subtraction, not shoring up holes on defense. Although Waiters has talent, he obviously wasn’t a good fit there, and that’s not just with the new roster, either. More to come? I could see it. Cleveland doesn’t have many trade chips left, but any tinkering is possible after the way the season has started.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI wouldn’t say mission accomplish or that there is more to come. Not sure if the Cavs, at this point, have any more disposable assets to swap that will fetch the shot-blocking rim protector they need. Shumpert is just a band-aid. The Cavs need more of a team effort defensively that will help hide the shortcomings of Kevin Love and, to an extent, Kyrie Irving, but I’m not so sure that mentality is there. LeBron can only do so much, and even he isn’t the defender he used to be.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe mission certainly hasn’t been accomplished, because they still lack rim protection and both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love still need to show that they can play both ends of the floor. But the trade is definitely a step in the right direction. Trading Waiters is addition by subtraction, Shumpert gives them more perimeter defense than they had, and Smith is a good shooter if he can just play off LeBron James and Irving and limit the isolation, step-back nonsense. I’ll be curious to see how coach David Blatt finds playing time for all these guards, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIt has to be a little of both. The Cavaliers certainly found a potential perimeter defensive stopper (no offense to Shawn Marion, who has performed those duties in the past) in Shumpert. So that part of the mission has been accomplished. But there has to be more to come in terms of shoring up the rim-protector/post-defense deficiency that was created when Anderson Varejao (Achilles) was lost for the season. The Cavaliers have plenty of time to continue exploring their options. And based on what we’ve seen from them so far, they need to turn over every rock in the basketball world in search of the idea fit.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMuch more to come … and much of it must happen in-house. Shumpert is a good pickup because he join LeBron James in his commitment to defense. Will everyone else come around? The mentality in Cleveland needs to change in addition to the mandatory acquisition of an intimidating big man. If everybody isn’t paying attention at that end of the floor, then nobody in Cleveland is going to be winning the championship.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe more I think about this deal, the more I like the way it works out for Cleveland. First of all, Dion Waiters either wouldn’t or couldn’t fit into the sixth man role he’d been asked to occupy, so the Cavs went out and got a former sixth man of the year in Smith. On top of that, they added Shumpert, the Knicks’ most versatile player and a true a-level wing defender. I think this will really help Cleveland down the stretch in games, where they’ve tried auditioned various players, from Matthew Dellevadova to Mike Miller, as Irving’s backcourt mate. Doesn’t matter which one, Shumpert or Smith is an upgrade.

Blogtable: Rondo or J-Smoove?

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


BLOGTABLE: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEOGameTime’s crew discusses how Josh Smith will help the Rockets

> Dallas trades for Rajon Rondo; Houston grabs Josh Smith. Who made the better move here and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAny team that switches out its point guard on the fly is determined and committed to change, so Dallas acquiring Rondo is both the bigger and the better move. Smith to Houston is a nice bit of accessorizing, as I see it, but the Rockets’ fundamental approach doesn’t change. Plus, their investment in the Detroit discard isn’t so great that they wouldn’t cut him loose if the negatives start to outweigh the positives. Good for both clubs, escalating the arms race in the West, but the Dallas did the more-real deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s far, far too early to tell.  The Rockets made the bigger gamble with a player in Smith who has more physical skills, but greater potential to blow up in their faces. Rondo upgrades Mavs offense at the point, but hasn’t helped plug a leaky defense

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Mavericks. I get why a lot of teams were running at Smith — only because he was low-cost, low-risk. But I like a lot of the reasons of Dallas getting Rondo. He will move the ball, critical for a team that already has Monta Ellis in the backcourt and Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons needing/deserving the ball up front. He has playoff experience. He has a desire to stay after becoming a free agent. And the Mavericks didn’t have to give up much to get him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comRondo gets the nod, only because there doesn’t appear to be any chance of a downside. He upgraded the point guard spot and does exactly what the Mavericks need him to do — find Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis or Tyson Chandler. Rondo can’t shoot but in this offense he can hide pretty well. Smith is being celebrated in Houston partly because he came cheaply. His bad habits can hurt Houston a lot more than Rondo’s can Dallas. For all of his skills, there’s a very high “heartbreak” quotient with Smith.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHouston, because there was a lot less risk involved in waiving Tarik Black than in trading three rotation guys and two draft picks for an experiment that might not work. Rondo helps the Mavs a little bit defensively. But he isn’t a good offensive fit next to Monta Ellis because neither player is an off-the-ball floor spacer. Smith isn’t a great fit offensively in Houston, either, but Houston had more need for help at his position. And, as previously noted, the Rockets didn’t give up nearly as much to get him (though Black is young and serviceable).

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI honestly liked both moves for the teams and players involved. Rondo, however, gives the Mavericks a makeover at the most crucial position in the game. The Mavericks get a seasoned play-caller with not only a championship pedigree, but also an understanding of what it takes to work in an ensemble cast. The Mavericks are clearly all in for this season. You don’t trade for a player like Rondo unless you are serious about winning it all. And to get through the Western Conference playoff grinder, there is no doubt you have to be as aggressive as possible in searching out and securing the services of true difference makers — like both Rondo and Smith.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comGive Rondo some time to adapt and strengthen his confidence, and he will make a huge difference to the Mavericks. They will appreciate him in the most important games — and in the playoffs especially. His talent for raising his play on the biggest stage is exactly what is needed for a contender. Smith, by comparison, has shown no such big-game ability.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHouston. I understand why Dallas felt like adding Rajon Rondo was a given — his resume and talent should be attractive to any NBA team. When you have the best offense in the NBA, like Dallas had at the time of the trade, changing your starting lineup and trading away your best backup big man (Brandan Wright) is the kind of move a fearless owner like Mark Cuban thrives on making. I’m just not sure it makes your team better. But for Houston, picking up Josh Smith — a very good forward who can help you on both sides of the ball when deployed correctly — without having to give up any pieces of your rotation is a no-brainer. Now we get to see if Kevin McHale is a Josh Whisperer and can carve out a role that fits Smith’s unique skill set.

Blogtable: Bulls bound for Finals?

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


BLOGTABLE: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEOJimmy Butler has emerged as a go-to scorer for Chicago this season

> Chicago is on a roll and appears to be making a beeline to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Is this the season the Bulls return to the NBA Finals? If not, tell me who’s gonna stop them?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThis is the best Bulls team since Michael Jordan retired for the second time, as far as depth and potential, so there’s no reason – on paper – that it shouldn’t get to The Finals. Cleveland, more than its general meshing, has a problem in Anderson Varejao‘s injury that might not get fixed until the offseason. Toronto, in postseason savvy, is a step behind Washington. And the Wizards, for all the confidence they gained last spring, would have trouble defending against this more-potent Chicago lineup. Atlanta? I respect the Hawks, but one-trick ponies have trouble in seven-game series. So the biggest question for Chicago remains Derrick Rose‘s long-term health and availability. Which means the “who” who might stop the Bulls must be … uh, trainer Jeff Tanaka? (Just kidding, Jeff)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Jimmy Butler stepping up his game this season, the Bulls have an improved offense and appear to have the pieces. But their defense has lost some of its teeth and Derrick Rose’s continued health still nags. I’m not ready to make Chicago the favorite. Have to like what the Raptors have done with best record in the East even with DeMar DeRozan out. Most efficient offense in the league and no-nonsense bulldog point guard in Kyle Lowry, who won’t go down easy. And let’s not write off the Hawks as just being the same old Hawks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThey were my pick at the start of the season to come out of the East, and to win the whole thing, so I’m not going to change now. Certainly not with the big jump from Jimmy Butler and the rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Rose’s health history obviously makes it something of a risk pick, and it is tough to push all my chips in with that medical chart, but, yes, the Bulls are the team to beat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIf they stay healthy, the Bulls have pole position in the East. They’re not a perfect team, but they bring more size, experience, defense and coaching to the playoff table than anyone else. The Raptors and Wizards haven’t done anything yet, the Hawks are a few stars short of going deep into May, and let’s not get started about the Cavaliers. If Jimmy Butler we see now is the Jimmy Butler we’ll see in the spring, then the East is theirs to lose.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The top four teams in the East – Toronto, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago – all have the potential to be a top-10 team on both ends of the floor. Toronto’s depth gives them an edge in the regular season, but Chicago — with its combination of talent (especially on the frontline), system, experience and coaching — is best set up to win in the playoffs. Health and durability through heavy regular-season minutes will always be a concern and it would be tough to pick them against the field, but the Bulls should be the slight favorite to be representing the Eastern Conference in The Finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAll of the components are there for the Bulls to finally make that long awaited return trip to The Finals. The Cavaliers were supposed to be the team that could roadblock the Bulls, but they aren’t that team in their current state. The Wizards have the talent to give Chicago a major test, yet they still cannot boast as deep or as balanced a roster as the Bulls can when fully healthy. The Raptors and Hawks would provide a stern playoff test, but both would come up short in three extremely important categories (size, seasoning and star power). The Bulls have everything you need, including Derrick Rose in uniform and not street clothes. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows that his team’s time is now. Chicago’s championship window is open now and it must take advantage of it.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe biggest concern for the Bulls is their own ligaments, tendons and muscles. Given the recent history of injuries among their best players, this is no small threat. If they are healthy, then they are it in the East. If they’re vulnerable physically, then the race becomes a scramble with anyone currently in the top five (plus Miami, which still has hope of pulling things together) having a shot at reaching the NBA Finals. Whereupon that team will be destroyed in five games or less.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I will recuse myself from answering the Atlanta Hawks because of inherent legacy fandom. (Even though I think the Hawks could knock off Chicago this season.) But I will say this: Why is everyone writing off the Cavaliers? I mean, I understand that it’s fun to watch a burgeoning empire stumble out of the gates, but the story this week about the team possibly not believing in Blatt reminded me so much of the first months of Erik Spoelstra’s tenure in Miami, when sources said the team may not have been buying into what he was selling. But the Heat stuck with it and I think we can all agree that things worked out pretty well there. The Cavs may have posted more misses than hits to start the season, but I think it’s short-sighted to write them off today. Cleveland still should be running with the Bulls by the end of the season.

Blogtable: NBA Person of the Year?

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


BLOGTABLE: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEORelive the best on-and off-court moments from 2014

> Time magazine editors choose a Person of the Year based on who they think most influenced the news — for better or worse — during that calendar year. Going by that criteria, who should be the NBA’s Person of the Year for 2014?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We’re not as desperate as mainstream media to stay relevant, so I won’t suggest a “shock” pick – no Donald Sterling, thank you. And while new commissioner Adam Silver had a great “rookie” year, from his handling of the Clippers owner’s mess to his negotiation of the new TV rights mega-deal, I prefer my NBA Person of the Year to not be a “suit.” So I’m going with LeBron James. Maybe not the most creative pick, but his final days with Miami, his refreshing decision to return to Cleveland and the ongoing angst over the Cavaliers’ spotty start – despite all the talk of learning curves and (ahem) patience – have dominated the league’s storylines.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGregg Popovich. He’s been at the top of the game for quite a while, but 2014 was the year when the entire world finally got validation that Popovich is more than just a grumpy face. He channeled the anger and disappointment from the 2013 Finals loss into a fire that drove the Spurs to redemption. He did it with a masterful use of his roster, conserving veterans Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and at the same time forged a deep bench that would be critical in the playoffs. By the time he got the Spurs back to The Finals last June, Popovich practically had them playing to a musical score in an artistic display of basketball. In winning titles 15 years apart with only one common player — Duncan — Popovich chiseled himself a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of coaches.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPersons — plural — of the Year. The San Antonio Spurs. I was going to go with Tim Duncan or Gregg Popovich or the Popovich/R.C. Buford combo vote, and then decided it was impossible and unnecessary to split them apart when the group win be so Spur-ish anyway. Did they influence the news the most? No. By that criteria alone, the one-man news cycle, LeBron James, is the winner. But San Antonio influenced the league the league the most. Another title, another calendar year of setting the standard for play and work off the court, another 12 months, into the start of the new season and the final weeks of 2014, of Duncan reaching new heights of impressive when it didn’t seem possible. I can’t wait to ride down the river after presenting the award.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comAdam Silver took over the commissioner’s job and found a live grenade on his desk in about 15 minutes. The way he handled the Donald Sterling situation — swiftly yet not recklessly, and definitely forcefully — gave him a higher profile and approval rating than his more famous NFL counterpart (Roger Goodell). For this particular designation, Silver has lapped the field.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGregg Popovich. The Spurs were the story of the 2013-14 season, recovering from the ultimate heartbreak in the 2013 Finals, getting back there through a deep Western Conference, and then, eviscerating the two-time defending champs with five games of the best basketball we’ve ever seen. San Antonio’s sustained success over the course of 17 seasons, on both ends of the floor and from the top of their roster to the bottom, has a lot of the league trying to imitate them. Several teams were talking “more ball movement” in training camps and we’re seeing the Spurs’ maintenance program for their vets make its way around the league as well. Tim Duncan is the best player of his generation and there are a lot of reasons why the Spurs are what they are, but Popovich has his hand in everything and is the face of the franchise

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNBA Commissioner Adam Silver is the runaway winner. He wasted no time ridding the league of the Donald Sterling disaster and has shown an ability to lead in ways that his predecessor and current peers in the other major professional sports wish they could under extreme circumstances. We all wondered how things would be different during the Silver administration … and we found out immediately. Doc Rivers, for his leadership of the Los Angeles Clippers throughout the Sterling affair, and LeBron James, who kept us all guessing during the summer before shaking up the league once again by going home to Cleveland (close enough to Akron to qualify as home), round out the top three on my ballot.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIt has to be LeBron ahead of Adam Silver, because this league – more than the NFL or the MLB – is about the players. LeBron was “person of the year” in 2010, and the decision he made back then was bookended by his return to Cleveland last summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me there are two obvious options, both involved in the same story but from different sides. Donald Sterling was probably the biggest NBA news story of 2014, after his now-infamous racist comments went public and stirred up controversy at the worst possible time for his basketball team. (Well, his former team.) But to me the NBA Person of the Year should be the guy who stepped up and took on Sterling, NBA commissioner Adam Silver. That press conference where Silver announced Sterling’s ban occurred just weeks into Silver’s new gig as commissioner. There were more eyeballs on him than he probably thought imaginable, and Silver handled the moment with aplomb. And actually, even with 20/20 hindsight, it’s hard to find any part of the Silver/Clippers saga that Silver didn’t tackle about as well as it could have been tackled. Factor in Silver inking bank-busting media rights deals this fall, and even though he’s only been on the job since February, Adam Silver has had quite a 2014.

One Stat, One Play: Nothing free in New York


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Nothing free in New York

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The New York Knicks talked defense in training camp, but we knew they weren’t going to be very good on that end of the floor.

Offensively, the Knicks still have talent. Carmelo Anthony is one of the league’s best scorers, Jose Calderon has been one of the league’s best shooters, and Amar’e Stoudemire has returned to being one of the league’s best finishers. Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith are all pretty flammable.

But the Knicks rank 22nd offensively, having scored just 100.9 points per 100 possessions through Wednesday. When you compare their efficiency to the league average, this is their worst offensive season since 2007-08, when Isiah Thomas was coach.

One reason is a lack of free throws. The Knicks rank last in free throw rate, having attempted only 22 freebies for every 100 shots from the field.

Free throws are the most efficient way to score. And in that regard, the Knicks have the same issue on defense. They rank 26th in opponent free throw rate, putting their opponents on the line 32 times for every 100 shots from the floor.

When you put it together, the Knicks have attempted 7.8 fewer free throws per game than their opponents. That’s not just the worst discrepancy in the league. It’s the worst discrepancy since the 1998-99 season, when Rick Pitino‘s Celtics attempted 8.6 fewer free throws per game than their opponents.

20141218_fta_discrepancy

The Knicks had the league’s worst free throw disparity last season too. But it wasn’t nearly as bad: minus-4.6 per game.

The triangle offense has made the Knicks more of a jump-shooting team than they were before. A mere 37 percent of their shots have come from the paint, the lowest rate in the league.

That is, in part, a result of the offense’s lack of ball screens and drives. According to SportVU, the Knicks rank last in both of those categories as well.

Knicks’ lack of attack
% of shots in paint: 37.3% (30th)
Ball screens per game: 37.1 (30th)
Drives per game: 13.2 (30th)

The video above is the latest installment of “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a typical triangle possession, which goes nowhere near the basket.

Some good news: The Knicks have attempted as many or more free throws than their opponents in their last three games. But it was just last week that they attempted 41 fewer freebies than their opponents over a three-game stretch against the Blazers, Pelicans and Spurs.

The Knicks visit Chicago in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Blogtable: Build with offense or defense?

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


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOGameTime’s crew breaks down the Sacramento Kings’ coaching situation

> Sacramento GM Pete D’Alessandro says he wants to see his team play at a faster pace. What’s a better foundation for a championship team — a high-scoring offense, or a stout defense?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGive me a stout defense. So much of a team’s and an individual’s success in this league (anywhere, really) hinges on the honing of habits. Come playoff time, possessions become more precious, pace throttles down and defense becomes more important, and I don’t see a Paul Westhead approach suddenly downshifting to out-stingy teams that have been playing that way all year. You want to make the highlight reels and fill a new building? High-octane offense is great. You want to win titles? Defense is king (even if it’s not Kings).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe truth, of course, is balance, but defense carries more weight. Say a top 10-ranked offense, but a defense in the top five. By the way, the past two years, the Spurs have been 7th and 3rd, respectively.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: High-scoring works, as the Spurs reminded last season, but defense has to be the foundation, as pretty much everyone reminds every season. A good defense leads to offense, as in easy transition baskets. Offenses will have bad nights, whether because of self-induced problems or the opponent, but a potent defense rarely breaks down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The obvious answer is that it takes some of both to have any shot at a title, but of course, a defensive team will always have a slight edge in the postseason, when the court shrinks and rotations tighten. Going back to what D’Alessandro said for a minute: Your offensive system must always cater to the talent on hand. In theory, everyone wants to run. In reality, not everyone is equipped to run. The Grizzlies, for example, don’t push the ball often because they lack the Ferraris. But last I looked, they’re sitting pretty in the West, looking down on Sacramento.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: More teams have reached The Finals with a top-10 defense than with a top-10 offense. You have to be great on both ends of the floor to win a title, but last season’s Heat and Spurs each showed us the importance of defense. Still, as the only team that has been below average on both ends of the floor for each of the last eight years, the Kings have to take what they can get. Find something that works and build on it. Fortunately for them, DeMarcus Cousins has developed into an anchor on both ends of the floor. But they need to surround him with a better supporting cast, the right coach, and some stability.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comA stout defense has to be the bedrock for a championship team. For teams that want to be exciting, draw eyeballs and get fans in the seats, a high-scoring offense is fine. The Phoenix Suns of the Mike D’Antoni era come to mind when I think of a team that could fill it up and had the appearance of a championship team, that is until they ran back to the other end of the court and couldn’t slow anyone down. I think a team that has to work overtime on offense to be legitimate can be a championship team with an elite defense. I have yet to see a team that can do the same on the flip side (an offensive juggernaut with defensive deficiencies). Ideally, it’s best to have the sort of balance the Texas teams (Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs) that have won championships recently possessed. As for the Kings, all the pace and points in the world won’t help you if you can’t lock down and get stops when you need them.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You need both, and for a team like the Kings — who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2006 — it doesn’t matter whether the offense or defense is established first. Just be good at something. Establish a winning identity, and then fill in at the weak spots. The Mavericks did it that way: They learned how to win and then added the defensive mindset. The Kings have no business thinking about championships right now; their first job is to win more games than they lose, and to establish a defining strength — somewhere, anywhere.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWhy does it have to be one or the other? A high-scoring attack is great — it’s fun to watch, it’s attractive to casual fans. But unless you have an above-average defense to go along with it, you don’t have much to fall back on when the offense inevitably slows. And for all the talk about wanting a more uptempo offense, the thing is the Kings weren’t a very good defensive team last season (they finished with a 109.5 defensive rating), and they haven’t been much better this year. (108.2). Bottom line, the Kings have a long way to go on both ends of the court before we start talking championships.

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters

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


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEO: The Starters reveal their early All-Star starter picks

> You’ll get a chance to you change your mind in about three weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The guys I think earned it in the West are names who might actually get enough votes in the real balloting: Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Out East, I’m not sure my five all would prevail in the popularity contest but on merit, they should go: John Wall and Kyle Lowry at guard, with LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver up front. Korver, you ask? He’s having a season to make analytics fans swoon, someone from Atlanta deserves a spot and I like the idea of two Kyles in a five-man lineup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEast: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol. West: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol. Durability counts, that’s why Dwyane Wade loses out to Irving and DeMarcus Cousins to Marc Gasol.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comEast: LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (forwards), Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (guards). West: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins (forwards), Stephen Curry and James Harden (guards). The option to change my mind in three weeks comes in especially handy with Cousins. If he returns strong from the viral meningitis, he holds the spot. If he struggles physically for long, his place becomes more precarious. It gets even worse if the Kings continue to drop in the standings — which dooms Carmelo Anthony on the East front line –or Cousins has a choppy adjustment to the Kings’ coaching change increased emphasis on playing up-tempo. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are waiting.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWest: James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol. Pretty clear-cut there. They’ve been healthy and productive. East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Yeah, folks will hold their nose about ‘Melo, but that’s more because of the Knicks. He’s No. 6 in scoring and the East is lacking in star power on the front line.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Going by the positions on the ballot (veiled shot at my colleagues who included Lowry, Wall and Butler) … East guards: Kyle Lowry and John Wall.  East frontcourt: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. West guards: Stephen Curry and James Harden. West frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan. Duncan gets my final spot in the crowded West frontcourt (for now), because he’s more of a two-way player than LaMarcus Aldridge and his minutes are over 30 per game this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based only on performance, in the East it has to be Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. In the Western Conference, where a preposterous surplus of candidates for five spots, I’m going with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. I don’t think I’ll need that mulligan in three weeks either, even with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coming on the way they are for Oklahoma City and Kobe Bryant playing the way he has all season. I want to reserve my injury replacement spot for Klay Thompson, too. He’s been that good this season and the Warriors are rocking. He belongs in New York for the festivities.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, I’ve got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt, with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. In the West, it’s Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis up front, with James Harden and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogEast: John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh. If I could put Kobe at the 3, I would, because I think he deserves to make the starting five. But there are literally only two players in the West that I’d rate ahead of him, and they are both guards. Sorry, Mamba. West: Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.