Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Blogtable: Picking the champions

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: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ


The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

The Spurs (and Tim Duncan, center) celebrate their win in the 2014 NBA Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

> Hey, this is simple: Who do you like to win the 2015 NBA Finals and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy head says San Antonio, because of what they showed us in June, because none of the competition can play a pat hand quite like the Spurs and because that “2007” to “2014” gap in championship banners in their rafters speaks volumes about their ability to at least fend off Father Time. But then I see Manu Ginobili come down – hard – when he gets banged in the lane (and the thigh) against Dallas, and the prospect of San Antonio navigating 82 games without something debilitating looks slim. So … I’m going with the Spurs anyway. Tired of being wrong about them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comSpurs.  The caveat, of course, is health.  If the Spurs still have all their pieces together and fit in April, they have the chemistry, experience, ability and definitely the know-how.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bulls. I’m counting on Derrick Rose to remain healthy, a risky move when the stakes are as high as a Blogtable prediction. But if he can deliver 70 games in the regular season and still be strong for the playoffs, that’s a team with depth, with defense, with experience, with coaching, with a mental toughness and now with increased scoring thanks to the return of Rose and the additions of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The basketball gods will see to it that the Clippers sip champagne in June. It’s just to prophetic: Their first season without The Ex-Owner Who Shall Not Be Named, Chris Paul‘s playoff legacy on the line, and Doc Rivers putting it all together. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see how Steve Ballmer plans to celebrate?

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Two reasons to like the Clippers: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t want to make a prediction based on the possibility of injury, and the Spurs old heads looked just fine in the opener on Tuesday. So I’ll guess that they repeat for the first time, because they’re simply the best team in the league, elite on both ends of the floor. And I’ll guess that they beat Chicago in The Finals, because the Bulls have the edge in both defense and continuity over Cleveland.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: While I’d love to see the Spurs chase history and their first back-to-back titles, I just don’t see how they can possibly make a third straight trip to The Finals. The Clippers are my pick and I think it all starts with Doc Rivers and my belief in the way he develops the culture of his team and the fact that they are loaded. Plus, I want to see some new blood in the championship circle this season. I know the Spurs, Cavaliers, Bulls and Thunder are probably much safer picks at this point. But as I told my main man Clipper Darrell this summer, if Doc could see them through all of the drama of last season, the Clippers would be my pick to win it all this year.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: No contender is hungrier than the Thunder. Kevin Durant will come back healthy, focused and fresh, and his teammates will have improved in his absence. They have three young stars with years of experience, and they’ve suffered enough in the playoffs that they’ll know how to win. This is their time. OKC beats Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I love the way the Cavaliers are constructed and think David Blatt will be a natural, but one stat keeps me from buying into the Cavs as a championship team this season: 0. That’s the number of combined career playoff appearances and wins from three of Cleveland’s starters (Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters). I don’t think that inexperience will keep them from making a splash in the postseason, but I do think experience matters, and I don’t know that these Cavaliers can overcome that in their first season together. That said, I will admit that I’ve learned my lesson, and instead of going trendy or flashy, I’m going smart: I’m taking the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs. They brought almost everyone back from last year’s team, and in the Finals seemed to discover a transcendent level of basketball. They may chase that for a while this year but they know it’s out there.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: I’d like to see the Spurs do what they haven’t done so far: win back-to-back championships. This is likely Tim Duncan‘s and Manu Ginobili‘s final season, so I’d love to see them retire with one more ring. Winning back-to-back rings will add more fashion to the Spurs’ legend. And finally, as Italian, I’d like to see Marco Belinelli get another ring and Ettore Messina start (for real) his NBA career helping Pop win another ring.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: San Antonio, because it has the best coach in the league, because it dominates a system and has the same team from the previous year that brought them the title.

Blogtable: International next up

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: Next great international player | Kawhi and the Spurs | Pick a champ



VIDEO: Inside Stuff rides along with the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (April 2014)

> Not counting Andrew Wiggins (too easy), who’s the next foreign-born player you see making an important impact on the league?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to be the sponge for this game and league that he has been so far, the Bucks’ “Greek Freak” could do for the No. 15 spot in the draft what Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have done for Nos. 28 and 57 spots, respectively. I’m not sure that indulging or dinking around too long with Antetokounmpo as a “point guard” is the quickest way for him to have his impact, however. Jason Kidd and his staff need to focus on getting him to max out his All-Star potential as a pure wing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Don’t know how you’re qualifying “making an impact.” Serge Ibaka certainly hasn’t maxed out his game and will probably have to step up big in Kevin Durant’s absence to keep the Thunder around top of the West. If you’re looking for a very young player, I’ll put my chips on Joel Embiid.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThis season: Nikola Mirotic with the Bulls. Nik Stauskas would be a consideration as well, but Mirotic gets the edge because he can become part of the rotation for a title contender. Next season, and with a bigger impact than either of the 2014-15 choices: Joel Embiid and Dante Exum. Both were in the 2014 draft and both are a season away, Embiid because of injury and Exum because he needs the experience of 2014-15 in Utah.

Joel Embiid (Brian Babineau /NBAE)

Joel Embiid (Brian Babineau /NBAE)

Shaun Powell, NBA.comDante Exum might not even be the best young foreign-born player on his own team at the moment; Rudy Gobert could put up decent numbers this year for the Jazz. But, really now: Exum is very young, gifted and intriguing. In time, this Aussie import could grow in leaps and bounds, like a kanga … wait, I can’t believe I was going to write that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In a few years, the combination of Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Dario Saric (Croatia) will have Sixers fans forgetting these two abysmal seasons and have everyone else realizing that the Sam Hinkie‘s plan and patience has paid off. Hinkie didn’t go into the 2014 Draft looking to take two guys that wouldn’t play this season, but Embiid’s injury and Saric’s contract in Turkey allowed the Sixers GM to get two really talented players at picks where they wouldn’t have been available if they were going to be ready for the start of the season. A healthy Embiid will be an anchor on both ends of the floor, and Saric is a big forward with guard skills.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGiannis Antetokounmpo is my pick. I know he’s a bit under the radar in Milwaukee and I know the Bucks are still working to figure out where he fits best. But there is so much talent and potential to work with where the “Greek Freak” is concerned, the options are limitless. He’s a game changer waiting to happen, provided the Bucks find the right niche for him as he continues to mature physically and in his understanding of how he can be effective in the NBA. Playing alongside another potential young star like Jabari Parker gives the Bucks an opportunity to take their player development to another level.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Joel Embiid would have gone No. 1 last spring if not for his injury. So long as he stays healthy – a capital IF, when you look at the recent histories of Embiid and other potential stars of his size – he’ll have a chance to be not only the best international star, but to also rank among the NBA’s top 10 overall based on his size, athleticism, skills and fiery disposition.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: One guy I was excited to see in the preseason was Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic. He’s certainly arrived in the States with the requisite accolades — he was the Spanish League MVP and Spanish Cup MVP, and was twice named Euroleague Rising Star. When we saw him play during the Hang Time Road Trip, he was bigger than I anticipated, and he also seemed a bit hesitant. The hesitancy will abate with time, and being able to play behind Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is a dream for a young post player, not only from a learning standpoint but also because it gives Mirotic the luxury of playing against second-team rotations players. Best of all? Mirotic is still just 23 years old. He hasn’t come close to prime yet. I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com Italy: What about Joel Embiid? Yes, he’s probably going to sit out the entire 2014-15 season, but I think he has the talent to become the next big thing. This big man has been playing basketball only for 4 years, and he has turned from a Mr. None to a 3rd overall pick. His potential is huge, could turn him into a dominant center. I’m looking forward to see him playing

Guillermo Garcia, NBA.com Mexico: I believe that Nikola Mirotic for the Chicago Bulls, because that is a very complete player who adds many options to the offensive end.

Nash’s greatness found in the numbers


VIDEO: Steve Nash Will Miss The 2014-15 NBA Season

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Mike D’Antoni, Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns changed NBA offense forever. They showed us what can be accomplished with a simple pick-and-roll, floor spacing and a willingness to share the ball.

Elements of D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less” offense are seen throughout the league today. But Nash was running the NBA’s best offense long before D’Antoni was. In his last three years as the starting point guard in Dallas, the Mavericks ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency.

Nash took that streak to Phoenix and continued it for another six years. He ran the No. 1 offense with Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley, even with Antoine Walker shooting 82-for-305 (27 percent) from 3-point range in 2003-04. In fact, when you compare teams’ offensive efficiency with the league average, that Mavs team had the No. 1 offense of the last 37 years (since the league started counting turnovers in 1977).

In Phoenix, Nash ran the No 1. offense with Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson, and kept it at No. 1 when Johnson left for Atlanta and Stoudemire missed all but three games in 2005-06. Even when Shaquille O’Neal arrived and supposedly bogged down the Suns’ attack, they had the most efficient offense in the league.

The Suns played at a fast pace, but we’re not looking at points per game, here. We’re looking at points per possession. And not only did Nash run the No. 1 offense of the last 37 years, he’s run each of the top five offenses of the last 37 years.

20141024_nash

Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain each led the league in scoring for seven straight seasons. Steve Nash ran the league’s best offense for nine straight, a run that started when Shaq and Kobe Bryant were at their best and ended when LeBron James was winning multiple MVPs.

Nash hasn’t said whether his career is over now that he’s been ruled out for the entire 2014-15 season, but it’s reasonable to guess that it is. It’s also reasonable to believe that we’ll never see another streak like the one he had between 2001 and 2010.

You can debate the merit Nash’s MVP awards or his place in the NBA’s all-time point guard rankings. But there’s no debating that he was one of the best offensive players of his generation. The numbers speak for themselves.

Numbers say Warriors should pass more


VIDEO: Warriors Season Preview: Steve Kerr

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As was written in this space last week, there was no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency on the league level last season. There were top-10 offensive teams (Oklahoma City and Phoenix) that didn’t move the ball a lot and bottom-10 offensive teams (Charlotte, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the Lakers) that did.

Does that mean that the Golden State Warriors (12th in offensive efficiency, dead last in passes per minute in half-court possessions) should aim to move the ball more this season?

Here’s Bleacher Report‘s Howard Beck on new coach Steve Kerr‘s goal to make the Warriors more Spurs-ish

Nearly 11 percent of the Warriors’ possessions last season were isolation plays, the third highest rate in the league, per Synergy Sports. Nor were the Warriors efficient on those plays, scoring just .842 points per isolation, which ranked 14th.

The Warriors’ internal analysis was just as damning. By one assessment, the Warriors were among the league leaders in possessions in which the ball never changed sides of the court. And yet the Warriors had their best success in games in which they averaged three to four passes per possession.

These are the numbers that Kerr and his staff—led by veterans Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams—are trying to hammer home as they work to change bad habits.

According to SportVU, the Warriors were indeed better offensively in the games they passed the ball more (though they averaged more than three passes per possession in only four games).

  • In the games they registered their 20 highest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.63 to 3.14), the Warriors scored 107.5 points per 100 possession and went 16-4 (6-3 against playoff teams).
  • In the games they registered their 20 lowest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.09 to 2.35), they scored 105.3 points per 100 possessions and went 9-11 (1-10 against playoff teams).

The difference in efficiency (2.2 points per 100 possessions) isn’t that huge. And if you take the entire season on a game-by-game basis, there’s just a minimal correlation between how frequently they passed the ball and how efficiently they scored. There were some bad offensive games in which they passed the ball a lot and some good ones in which they didn’t.

But that 16-4 record when they moved the ball a lot is hard to ignore, while the 1-10 record against playoff teams when they were more stagnant has to be a concern.

Looking at individual possessions, SportVU tells us again that the Warriors were more efficient the more they passed the ball. In fact, on possessions in which they passed the ball less than four times, the Warriors barely cracked a point per possession, a mark that would rank in the bottom 10 in the league. But on possessions in which they passed it four or more times, they scored close to 1.2 points per possession, a mark that would rank No. 1 in the league, by far.

As one of the league’s two or three best shooters with the ball in his hands, Stephen Curry is a matchup nightmare. He doesn’t need a pass — just a screen or a little bit of space on the break — to get an good look at the basket. Curry and Carmelo Anthony tied for the league lead with 456 unassisted field goals each last season, and Curry (142) had 54 more unassisted 3-pointers than any other player.

But Curry is still a better shooter off the pass than off the dribble. Last season, he made 48.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers and 43.7 percent of his pull-up jumpers.

So yes, there is motivation for the Warriors to pass the ball more. Less than 25 percent of Curry’s jumpers were of the catch-and-shoot variety last season. If the Warriors can get him off the ball more, they should be a more efficient offense.

Good news. In the five Golden State preseason games of which we have video, Curry has taken more catch-and-shoot jumpers (23) than pull-up jumpers (17). Some of those catch-and-shoot attempts have come after just one or two passes, and he was sometimes off-balance as he tried to get off a quick shot after coming off a pin-down screen, but the team’s intent to get Curry shooting more off the pass is there. And he seems willing to give the ball up early in a possession in order to get it back for a better shot.

The Warriors ranked third in defensive efficiency last season. Ranking 12th offensively was a disappointment given their talent. With their shooting in the backcourt and their passing in the frontcourt, the potential is there for an elite offense.

If Kerr can help the Warriors realize that potential without regression on defense, the Warriors will be a championship contender.

Blogtable: Down, but on its way up

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: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: The Jazz finally may be on the right track

> Which of these down-on-its-luck franchises strikes you as on the fastest track forward: Utah, Sacramento or Orlando?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Orlando. They strike me as having the best fit of young pieces – Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon – to develop together, if they can manage to score enough points along the way. Sacramento should have been better by now, and for every Kings player who intrigues me, there’s another who cancels out the optimism. Utah’s talent is good but a new coach and system suggests a reset of the learning curve.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Can I say Philadelphia?  Even with more bumps and plenty of pain ahead this season, the Sixers are stacking young talent and will get more from the 2015 Draft. But if you’re making me pick from these three, I’ll go with the one that has the best player. That’s the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, for all the known questions about attitude, could be a franchise-carrying talent. The Jazz and Magic are scoops of vanilla ice cream: filling but hardly exciting.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I keep wanting to believe in the Kings, to believe in DeMarcus Cousins, to believe in new ownership, new management and coach Mike Malone. But, man, they really make it hard. In Orlando, I do like their young talent, but I’m not sold on Jacque Vaughn at the helm and I think there will be a coaching change at some point. Utah has fully committed to a youth movement and I’m sold on Trey Burke and have high hopes for Dante Exum as a game-changing playmaker. Gordon Hayward has to step it up to an All-Star-caliber level, so we’ll see about that, but there’s other young, emerging talent and more picks in the trove. They got the coach question out of the way and Quin Snyder will breathe some freshness into the program. Maybe this is my West bias coming into play, but I’ll take Utah over Orlando by a smidgen.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOrlando. For one thing, the Magic are in the East, which gives them an easier path to the back of the playoff pack, even this season despite a lot of youth. For another: Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. That’s a nice foundation built on defense and rebounding. They obviously have a lot of growing to do while relying heavily on two rookies and a second-year player, but that’s a lot of potential for the fast track.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very excited about the 2-3 year prospects of any of these teams. The Kings have the best player of the three, but nothing around DeMarcus Cousins (or a clear plan of action) that says they definitely have a shot at making the playoffs in the next three years. The Magic and Jazz both have a decent collection of young talent, including rookie guards – Elfrid Payton and Dante Exum – with high ceilings, but nobody that is definitely a future All-Star. If I have to take one team, I’ll take Orlando, just because they’re in the Eastern Conference, where a playoff spot can be had with a decent amount of talent and good coaching.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of the these teams believe they have the ideal core group in place for lift off. The promise of what could be always rules the day in lottery land. The one place where I believe that there has been a true altering of the DNA for the better is in Utah. The continued stockpiling of versatile, young talent is at a point where the process can be accelerated a bit this season. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Alec Burks and even new coach Quin Snyder will operate without the added pressure of playoff expectations, which are not realistic for the Kings or Magic either. The Kings and Magic, however, are still sorting through their talent base to see who does and does not fit. The Jazz already know who and what they have.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Utah and Orlando are each inching forward, not a slowly as Philadelphia, but at intentionally deliberate paces. But from the ownership down, Sacramento seems like a team that doesn’t want to wait any longer. While Utah and Orlando each have a few nice young pieces, the Kings have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay who are further along than most of the guys in Orlando and Utah. They’ve got a new arena on the way, and there seems to be a real urgency to win and win now.

Blogtable: Concerns for the Cavaliers

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: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: Sekou Smith takes a quick look at the 2014-15 Cavaliers

> Outside of injury, what do you see as the biggest concern for the Cavs, something that might not work as anticipated? Could it keep Cleveland from the East finals?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy biggest Cav-eat, so to speak, pertains to their size. Anderson Varejao has been prone to breakdowns, Brendan Haywood is 34, Kevin Love is outside half the time and everyone else is 6-foot-9 or shorter. But Miami overcame a similar “bigs” problem in the paint and I think Cleveland will, too. If Chicago figures out how to stay healthy and fresh for the postseason, maybe that trips up the Cavs. Otherwise, LeBron James will play in his fifth consecutive Finals.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDefense. All indications from the preseason are the Cavs have plenty of offensive firepower. But the question is whether they can stop opponents, especially in the fourth quarter. I expect that to be a running theme throughout the season.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comWithout getting too technical here, defense has to be at the top of the list, right? Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love haven’t exactly stamped their careers as being stoppers. Anderson Varejao needs to stay healthy for interior protection (sorry, you said, outside of injury). Yes, if the Cavs turn out to be a porous defensive squad and make LeBron run all over the place, it could keep them out of the East finals — that is if they’re playing the Bulls in the second round.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Just the obvious: It takes time. Grand success doesn’t always happen right away. Ask 2010-11 LeBron, the first season in Miami. The Cavaliers have some (not all) unselfish players and experience and talent, but there will be a transition period with so many new people and a new system with the coach. Maybe that transition period will be a couple months. Maybe it will be the season.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDefense is clearly concern No. 1. Their offense is going to be ridiculous, with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James attacking and plenty of guys to place the floor. But their best offensive lineups – James at the four and Kevin Love at the five – aren’t going to be great defensive lineups. And their interior defenders – Brendan Haywood and Anderson Varejao – have each had problems staying healthy. That’s not keeping them from the conference finals, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If we’re excluding injury and the Chicago Bulls, I’d argue the Cavs have all of the human resources to get to wherever they are aiming to go this season. Still, there are chemistry concerns for this group headlined by LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving that still bother me just days away from the start of the regular season. The sacrifices that will have to be made by not only the marquee stars but also role players like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and others should not be overlooked. This is a five-man game and the Cavs need to make sure they have the right five to ride through the regular season and into the postseason. Any glitch in that chemistry matrix could derail the championship plans.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDefense. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts and stuff to figure out for the Cavaliers this season, but I think the offense is the least of their worries. Worst case scenario, you put Kyrie on one wing and LeBron on the other and let them go one-on-one against their defenders, with Kevin Love grabbing rebounds. But defense is the one place where they can’t just get by on talent. They don’t have a rim protector, and other than LeBron, none of their starters are really known for his defensive ability. Time will tell if they’re able to implement a system where they’re able to cover for each other. A defensive deficiency may not matter in terms of escaping the Eastern Conference, but when you’re facing a team like San Antonio without a strong defense in place … well, I think we all saw how that can go.

Blogtable: Putting up big numbers

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: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?


> ‘Melo says it won’t be him. LeBron’s not worried about scoring and has other weapons. KD is hurting for awhile. Do you see a new scoring champ this year?

Carmelo Anthony (Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony
(Ned Dishman/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comRussell Westbrook has the tools and the mentality, but he’ll be back to sharing the OKC offense with Durant soon enough. So I’m going with Houston’s James Harden, who will be able to play just selfishly enough – based on what the Rockets will need from him – to chase the scoring crown.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHello, James Harden. He’s coming off consecutive seasons of averaging more than 25 points per game (ranked 5th in 2014), the Rockets have lost a considerable bit of their punch from last year in Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin and that likely means Harden will be asked/needed to put up more shots to fill the void. He’s never had to be asked twice to shoot more.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well that was nice of ‘Melo to take himself out of the scoring race, sort of how Kevin Durant bowed out late in the 2012-13 season to sort of let ‘Melo get his one scoring title. But, geez, looking at the Knicks’ roster, it seems to me that ‘Melo’s gonna have to light it up nighty. But since he says he’s out, we’ll omit him. And let’s say Durant won’t come back and take it, and surmise that LeBron James will spread the wealth with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. So go to the next guy on the list, and last year that was James Harden. With Chandler Parsons now firing 3s in Dallas, Harden has even more opportunity to pump in the points, and, quite frankly, the Rockets just might need him to score 30 a night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Sets up nicely for Stephen Curry, doesn’t it? I don’t agree with Carmelo’s premise, and I won’t count Durant out, but for the sake of conversation, Curry is a solid choice with the Warriors emphasizing ball movement. Just what the rest of the league needs. Steph getting more open looks. And Paul George should be mentioned in the question among the missing. If not for the knee injury, I probably would have gone with him for the non-Melo, non-LeBron, non-KD scoring title.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI don’t believe Carmelo. Yes, he’s being asked to move the ball more in the Triangle offense. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t still get his shots or that the Knicks won’t still rely on him to carry their offense. And they’re going to need a lot of offense, because their defense will be pretty poor. I wouldn’t take Melo against the field, but he’s my pick.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. I don’t care what Carmelo thinks or says, it’s his scoring title to lose, even with the new triangle-based offense in New York. But that doesn’t mean there are not plenty of eager candidates — James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and others — willing to step into the fray and chase that top spot. The truly elite, scoring championship chasers are far and few between. There are only a handful of them playing at any given time, and even fewer of them who stay healthy long enough and stay locked in long enough and consistently enough to stay in the mix for an entire season. Triangle or not, it’s ‘Melo’s title to lose.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Kobe? Have you watched the Lakers in the preseason? Kobe is taking a lot of shots — in the last two games combined he’s taken 45 field goals and 24 free throws. The Lakers probably aren’t going to be very good, but Kobe’s gonna be Kobe, which means he’ll keep getting buckets and will play as many minutes as he possibly can. And if he’s in the mix for scoring leader with a few months to go, that might be the only thing the Lakers have to play for.

Another setback for Nets’ Lopez


VIDEO: Kings vs. Nets highlights

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Brook Lopez made it through three preseason games. Specifically, Lopez’s right foot made it through three preseason games.

The Brooklyn Nets announced Thursday night that Lopez suffered a “mild right midfoot sprain” in the first quarter of the Nets’ Global Games win over the Sacramento Kings in Beijing on Wednesday. Nets medical director Dr. Riley Williams III said that Lopez is “likely to be out for approximately 10-14 days,” which puts his status for the Nets’ first game (Oct. 29 in Boston) in doubt.

Lopez apparently played through the injury, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 21:28 on Wednesday. He averaged 18.0 points and 5.7 boards in 23.4 minutes in three preseason games, shooting 13-for-17 in the restricted area.

But the numbers don’t mean anything if Lopez can’t stay healthy. That right foot has had three surgeries on it and has allowed the 7-footer to play just 96 games over the last three seasons. This injury was not a break; Lopez’s x-rays and CT scans were clear. And it’s possible that Brooklyn is being extra cautious given the time of year and Lopez’s history.

But this is clearly a setback for a player trying to reestablish himself as an All-Star and a team trying to stay in the top half of the Eastern Conference. The Nets have some depth up front, but Lopez is a player that few teams can match up with. And he continues to show a fragility that has, unfortunately, plagued many big men in this league.

Measuring ball and player movement


VIDEO: Spurs Season Preview: Year in Review

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With the way the San Antonio Spurs eviscerated the Miami Heat defense on their way to the largest point differential in Finals history, ball movement has become a hot topic around the NBA. (You could say that the Spurs have spurred a ball-movement movement.)

The Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Thunder and Warriors are among the many teams who have given lip service to moving the ball better this season. And why not? More movement should make your team tougher to guard and give it a better chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

In the past, there wasn’t a great way to measure ball movement. We had assist ratio (AST/FGM), but an assist could be recorded without a lot of ball movement, a lot of ball movement doesn’t necessarily lead to an assist, and assigning assists is ultimately at the discretion of the official scorer.

Now, we have SportVU. And the presence of its cameras in every arena can give us a much better picture of how much teams really move the ball … and move themselves. The cameras track every movement on the court, both by the players and the basketball.

The Spurs are the first team that come to mind when discussing ball movement. But they ranked fourth in passes per possession last season, according to SportVU, behind Charlotte, Chicago and Utah.

Those three were all bottom-seven offensive teams, though. One reason they passed more often is because they often went deep into the shot clock without finding a good shot. The Jazz took a league-high 21 percent of their shots in the final six seconds of the shot clock. The Bulls (20 percent, fourth highest rate) and Bobcats (17 percent, 10th highest rate) took a lot of their shots in the final six seconds too.

Ball movement

20141016_passesTo account for that, SportVU can look at passes on a per-minute basis. And to simplify things, it can isolate passes and player movement in the frontcourt on possessions that lasted more than six seconds (to eliminate fast breaks).

When we do that, we see that the Spurs do moved the ball more than any other team, more than 15 times per minute. The Bobcats were still near the top of the list, but the Jazz (14.1) and Bulls (13.9) ranked ninth and 11th respectively.

The league average was about 13.6 passes per minute (one every 4.4 seconds), and the Golden State Warriors are at the bottom of the list at 11.7 passes per minute, a number which might change with a new coach.

The Sacramento Kings were just above the Warriors at 11.9 passes per minute, but interestingly, ranked high in terms of player movement.

Player movement

20141016_distanceNot surprisingly, the Spurs were at the top of this list, too. Not only is the ball moving in San Antonio’s offense, but so are the players. Tony Parker is passing off and circling under the basket before getting the ball back at the top of the key. Tiago Splitter is setting multiple screens on most possessions. And Danny Green is running from corner to corner to get open while his defender is focused on the ball.

The Bobcats, Sixers, Wizards, Jazz and Bucks also ranked in the top 10 in both ball and player movement. The Warriors, Pistons, Knicks and Thunder, meanwhile, ranked in the bottom 10 in both.

The anomalies

There was a decent correlation between ball movement and player movement, but there were teams that ranked high in one and not the other.

The Kings and Pelicans each ranked in the top five in player movement, but in the bottom five in ball movement. New Orleans ranked third in the league in drives, but was the team most likely to shoot on those drives.

On average, about 65 percent of drives would result in a drawn foul or a shot by the driver. Tyreke Evans (70 percent), Eric Gordon (79 percent) and Austin Rivers (82 percent) were all guys who drove a lot, but not for the purpose of finding an open teammate.

The Kings’ offense featured a lot of cutting, but not a lot of passes. Isaiah Thomas led all starting point guards in seconds (of possession) per touch (5.45). And DeMarcus Cousins (1.95) led all power forwards and centers in the same category.

On the other side of the ledger were the Clippers and Lakers, who ranked high in ball movement (eighth and fifth, respectively), but low in player movement (22nd and 25th).

The Clippers’ offense is a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and a solid helping of post-ups, each of which draw extra defenders to the ball and create open looks for other guys. But those other guys aren’t moving that much when they’re not involved in the primary action. The Lakers, with far less talent, often swung the ball around the perimeter until somebody had enough space to launch a three.

Is better ball movement the answer?

The Spurs move the ball beautifully, move themselves often, ranked sixth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and took it to a new level in The Finals. But the Spurs are special.

There is no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. Three top-10 offenses — Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Toronto — ranked in the bottom 10 in ball movement (passes per minute in half-court possessions). And five bottom-10 offenses — Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Utah, Charlotte and the Lakers — ranked in the top 10.

If you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you don’t need to move the ball that much. And if you have the combination of Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, you’re going to get some great shots by just running a pick-and-roll. If you don’t have enough talent, it’s not going to matter much how much you move the ball.

The same goes with player movement. As noted above, the Clippers ranked 22nd in player movement (team distance per minute in half-court possessions), and they had the No. 1 offense in the league.

You might think that better ball movement allows you to better sustain your offensive success in the playoffs, when you’re facing defenses that know all your players and aim to take away your primary actions. But last year, there was no correlation between teams that moved the ball well in the regular season and those that improved offensively in the playoffs.

Again, the Spurs are special.

Blogtable: LeBron’s MVP challenger

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


BLOGTABLE: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


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

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

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

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

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

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

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

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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