Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Blogtable: Lottery Teams In Free Agency

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


Week 38: On lottery teams | Playoff wins: Nets or Knicks | Playoff wins: Rockets or Spurs


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Which lottery team made the biggest free-agency splash?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Minnesota Timberwolves have made some surgical signings to fit their needs and coach Rick Adelman’s offensive system. Kevin Martin (via sign-and-trade from OKC) and Chase Budinger (their own FA re-upped after an injury-spoiled 2012-13) bring much-needed shooting and movement. Former Nugget Corey Brewer also happens to be a former Wolf returned to the fold now, and his defense on the wing and ability to run the floor will be big boosts. (Caution: This is predicated on Wolves boss Flip Saunders getting center Nikola Pekovic re-signed as a restricted free agent; if he gets a bonanza offer and Minnesota blinks, we take back this whole paragraph, OK?)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If we’re talking strictly free agency and not including trades, then I’m going with the Pistons. Signing Josh Smith definitely qualifies as a big splash and getting Chauncey Billups to return to Detroit could make more than a ripple in the pond if he can help with the team chemistry and developing young talent. Gigi Datome could be a bonus. Cleveland is probably closer to making the playoffs, but that’s due to a healthy Kyrie Irving and other returning talent. I like the addition of Jarrett Jack, but think the Cavs are headed for disappointment with Andrew Bynum.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: From the standpoint of immediate impact my vote goes to the Detroit Pistons. Josh Smith‘s history with the Hawks wasn’t always pretty and has been an enigma, but the power forward is a talent. If he’s focused and fit — and he better be now that he’s out of Atlanta and has a lucrative contract — he can really help what certainly appears to be a franchise on the move. The Pistons hope he will mesh well with and be a good influence on youngsters Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Add veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, who won a title in Detroit a decade ago, and a young team just got supreme on-the-floor leadership and a respected figure that new coach Maurice Cheeks can lean on as he implements his system. Honorable mentions: Phoenix for acquiring Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler; Portland for adding Dorell Wright and Robin Lopez; Charlotte for signing Al Jefferson, even if they paid a hefty price; and a shaky honorable mention to Cleveland for taking a stab at Andrew Bynum.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Timberwolves. They took care of business with their own free agents by re-signing Chase Budinger and, barring a big surprise, Nikola Pekovic. And they addressed an offseason priority to find shooting help by getting Kevin Martin. Adding the defense of Corey Brewer will help as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very bullish on Andrew Bynum’s prospects, but I still like what Cleveland has done, adding a couple of veterans at key positions to accelerate their progress. Their young players were going to get better and their defense was going to improve with the return of Mike Brown, but Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark can get them over the hump and into the playoffs. That’s a necessary step for the development of Kyrie Irving and also to pique LeBron James’ interest next summer. If Bynum and Anderson Varejao can combine to play 100 games or so, then they can get as high as the No. 6 seed in the East.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Dallas and Cleveland swung for the fences and came up a bit short. And I love what the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans did to bolster their rosters via trade and free agency. The Detroit Pistons, however, had specific targets and locked down the guys they identified as difference makers for a team that has a legitimate shot to climb up the charts in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The additions of both Josh Smith and Chauncey Billups fill crucial needs for the Pistons. Toss in Italian league MVP Luigi Datome and the Pistons have added three significant pieces. That said, free agency seems a bit thin to me this summer now that all of the major transactions have been completed. The trade market is where the real action was this summer. And no one made a bigger splash there than the Brooklyn Nets.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Detroit Pistons? I used a question mark there on purpose, because it doesn’t seem like many of the lottery teams did very much in free agency, post-draft. The Pistons, though, signed Josh Smith, and J-Smoove gives them a heckuva front line, between Smith, Drummond and Monroe. I also like them bringing back Chauncey Billups, who will bring some stability to the backcourt. I don’t think these moves immediately make them a title team, but they should make them a playoff team this season.

Blogtable: Nets Or Knicks In The East?

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


Week 38: On lottery teams | Playoff wins: Nets or Knicks | Playoff wins: Rockets or Spurs


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Who wins more playoff games next season: the Knicks or Nets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Gotta go with the team that got a heart transplant: the Nets. There is no how, no way that Brooklyn — on its home court against a banged-up, undermanned Chicago Bulls squad in the first round — loses Game 7 if it has the leadership and intensity of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in its locker room and on its side. Then you add a highly motivated Andrei Kirilenko as a retro Swiss Army knife, not required at this stage to log heavy minutes, and for such a tiny price (as if that matters there)? I don’t see the Knicks as having done much of anything to get sharper, more focused or more dangerous. I think the Nets double New York’s postseason victory total, easy.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Knicks won their first playoff series in ages, flamed out in the second round, and the response was to trade for the soft Andrea Bargnani, re-sign J.R. Smith and then steal faded Metta World Peace from China or the Arena Football League. The Nets get Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko to go with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. It’s the Nets by a mile.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I think — I think — this is a slam dunk. The Nets will win more playoff games. They’ve got All-Stars at the two key positions, point guard and center (Deron Williams reverted to All-Star form in the second half) and then you bring in the savvy of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to a starting five that also includes Joe Johnson. The stunning signing of Andrei Kirilenko really strengthens the bench. I can’t say the Knicks got better this offseason. Metta World Peace can help defensively, but he’s no Ron Artest at this point.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Nets. The Knicks will be interesting, but Brooklyn has positioned itself better for postseason wins. But this is from a guy who thought they had a chance for a long run a year ago, and still believed during sluggish periods in the second half of 2012-13 that the Nets could be the second-best team in the East.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Brooklyn, because they will have the better defense. Both teams had below-average defenses last season, and though the Nets were worse, they did more to address the issue – with the additions of Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko – than the Knicks did. New York could put together a solid defensive lineup or two, but still has too many non-defenders in its rotation (particularly with the addition of Andrea Bargnani) to believe it can get back to being the defensive team it was in ’11-12.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Knicks have two clear advantages over the Nets and that’s in the coaching department. Mike Woodson is far more experienced than Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony plays for the Knicks. But the Nets have the advantages basically everywhere else and that’s why I think they win more playoff games next season. Both of these teams have the tools to make it at least to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Knicks, while built for success in the regular season, struggled to get past the adversity they faced last season. The Nets, if Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are healthy, have a crew built for success in the second season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe Nets. The Knicks will win more regular season games, but the Nets strike me as a team built to win in the postseason. I just hope there’s some point in the regular season where Nets coach Jason Kidd has to activate himself for a game or two.

Blogtable: Rockets Or Spurs Out West?

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


Week 38: On lottery teams | Playoff wins: Nets or Knicks | Playoff wins: Rockets or Spurs


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Who wins more playoff games next season: the Spurs or Rockets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Sticking with the Spurs for now. Their championship window might be closing — how long have we been saying that? — and the Rockets’ might be opening, but the former’s still bigger for the spring of 2014, in my view. I assume Gregg Popovich already has drawn up a dozen or so things he wants his guys to do against Dwight Howard in Houston garb. I worry a little about the shell-shock of Game 6 and The Finals That Got Away, but it also gives San Antonio something fresh for motivation. Kind of like a boxer tasting his own blood and the rush that can come from that. The Rockets? Their days will come.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Rockets could jump into the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a deep playoff run. That won’t happen until Dwight Howard makes a real commitment to being a serious competitor. You can keep thinking the Spurs’ time as a contender is over at your own peril. While Manu Ginobili is showing wear and tear with his age, Kawhi Leonard has much more upside. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are still the heart and soul and the free-agent signings of Jeff Pendergraph and Marco Belinelli add depth. The Rockets are hopeful. The Spurs are still very much for real.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Now this is a good one. Can I call it a toss-up? Had the Spurs not pulled out that Game 1 thriller against Golden State in the West semifinals, they might have been out on their rears and all of us would be picking the James Harden-Dwight Howard Rockets as a no-brainer over the forever-aging Spurs. Instead, the Spurs made it back to The Finals and came within 28 seconds of knocking off the Heat in Game 6. So what does it all mean? I have no idea. Plenty of skeptics will follow Howard until he proves he’s a serious leader of men, even with a smile on his face, which I think he will do during this first decision-less season in a couple years. I’ll take the Rockets.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Spurs. I think the Rockets will become a greater factor in the West, after a first-round elimination this year, but I have decided to be a year late on burying the Spurs since everyone else annually decides to be a year early. Besides, the Spurs will be good.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: San Antonio. The Spurs will likely have the more consistent offense and already have a great defense, having allowed the third-fewest points per 100 possessions last season. The Rockets can get there, but it will take more than the addition of Dwight Howard, because they already had a great defensive center with Omer Asik. For the Rockets to improve 10 or more spots from 17th in defensive efficiency, they will need improvement on the perimeter.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great question. At first blush, the Spurs would seem like the ideal pick. They were 30 seconds away from dethroning the Miami Heat and taking Larry O’Brien back to San Antonio. With the cast coming back mostly intact, there is no reason to believe the Spurs will take a step back in the Western Conference playoffs next season. Sure, the Rockets have the summer buzz, courtesy of their successful courtship of Dwight Howard. But until I see the new-look Rockets in the flesh, until I see Howard and James Harden figure out the nuances of leading a young crew through some of the trials and tribulations that are sure to come, I’m sticking with my gut instinct. The Spurs win more playoff games next season … the Rockets’ time will come later.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Spurs. I think Houston will be pretty good and will probably finish in the top half of the Western Conference, but I learned many years ago to never bet against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are the Jason Vorhees of the Western Conference — every time you think they’re out, they return and just keep coming after you.

Who’s Left? A Look At The Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been 15 days since teams could start talking to free agents and six days since contracts could be signed. And at this point, pickings are slim. If you want an impact player, you’re probably going to have to settle for a guy that makes an impact only some of the time.

Here’s what’s left on the free-agent market as of Tuesday morning, according to the numbers guys put up last season.

There were 30 free agents available on July 1 (or who became available afterward) who had played at least 2,000 minutes last season. Only three remain …

Most minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 80 2,896 36.2
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 58 2,133 31.4
Nate Robinson CHI 82 23 2,086 25.4
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 62 1,959 31.6
Jason Maxiell DET 72 71 1,789 24.8
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 6 1,636 21.5
Lamar Odom LAC 82 2 1,616 19.7
Alan Anderson TOR 65 2 1,495 23.0
Gary Neal SAS 68 17 1,484 21.8
Beno Udrih ORL 66 9 1,457 22.1

(R) = Restricted free agent

There were 21 free agents who played at least 200 minutes in the playoffs, and six of those guys are still left …

Most playoff minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Nate Robinson CHI 12 8 404 33.7
Gary Neal SAS 21 0 390 18.6
D.J. Augustin IND 19 1 316 16.6
Derek Fisher OKC 11 0 261 23.7
Kenyon Martin NYK 12 1 253 21.1
Devin Harris ATL 6 6 225 37.5
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 4 4 133 33.3
Sam Young IND 15 0 130 8.7
Keyon Dooling MEM 14 0 114 8.1
Ivan Johnson ATL 6 0 108 18.0

There were 31 free agents who scored at least 800 points last season, some more efficiently than others. Only four of those guys are left …

Most points scored, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP PTS PPG eFG% TS%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 1,397 17.5 46.8% 51.0%
Nate Robinson CHI 82 1,074 13.1 51.0% 54.0%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 1,055 15.5 46.6% 53.1%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 1,011 16.3 52.0% 57.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 712 9.4 53.7% 56.1%
Alan Anderson TOR 65 693 10.7 46.0% 50.9%
Gary Neal SAS 68 645 9.5 48.7% 51.2%
Mo Williams UTA 46 592 12.9 48.5% 51.9%
Devin Harris ATL 58 577 9.9 52.5% 56.5%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 564 10.6 44.4% 46.5%

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

Of the 30 free agents who grabbed at least 300 rebounds, five remain …

Most total rebounds, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP OREB DREB REB RPG OREB% DREB% REB%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 230 315 545 8.8 13.1% 18.8% 15.9%
Lamar Odom LAC 82 117 363 480 5.9 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%
Jason Maxiell DET 72 135 274 409 5.7 8.6% 17.7% 13.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 109 253 362 4.8 7.5% 16.7% 12.2%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 71 266 337 6.4 5.3% 21.9% 13.2%
Samuel Dalembert MIL 47 105 171 276 5.9 13.9% 26.6% 19.8%
Ivan Johnson ATL 69 76 190 266 3.9 8.4% 20.9% 14.7%
Brandan Wright DAL 64 85 175 260 4.1 8.5% 16.0% 12.4%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 55 195 250 3.7 2.9% 10.9% 6.8%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 59 187 246 3.1 2.1% 7.3% 4.6%

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed while on the floor

Of the 24 free agents who dished out at least 200 assists last season, six remain …

Most assists, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP AST APG TO AST/TO ASTRatio
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 521 6.5 203 2.57 24.9
Nate Robinson CHI 82 358 4.4 144 2.49 23.9
Beno Udrih ORL 66 302 4.6 108 2.80 32.4
Jamaal Tinsley UTA 66 290 4.4 106 2.74 45.2
Mo Williams UTA 46 285 6.2 125 2.28 29.1
A.J. Price WAS 57 205 3.6 64 3.20 28.9
Devin Harris ATL 58 197 3.4 88 2.24 24.8
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 177 2.6 108 1.64 13.9
D.J. Augustin IND 76 170 2.2 68 2.50 29.5
Luke Walton CLE 50 166 3.3 60 2.77 39.9

ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions resulting in an assist

There were 49 free agents who recorded a positive plus-minus last season, and 18 of them – including a pair who made a strong impact – remain.

Highest plus-minus, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP +/- OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Lamar Odom LAC 82 +296 104.9 95.4 +9.5
Devin Harris ATL 58 +155 105.2 97.9 +7.3
Gary Neal SAS 68 +101 105.4 101.4 +4.0
Brandan Wright DAL 64 +100 107.9 102.8 +5.1
Derek Fisher OKC 33 +64 107.2 100.7 +6.5
Kenyon Martin NYK 18 +58 109.8 101.4 +8.4
Rodrigue Beaubois DAL 45 +36 102.8 99.3 +3.5
Nate Robinson CHI 82 +32 101.9 101.9 +0.0
Mike James DAL 45 +30 106.8 103.8 +3.0
Jerry Stackhouse BKN 37 +27 103.0 104.6 -1.7

OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions with player on floor
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions with player on floor
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions with player on floor

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

World Peace Will Help Knicks’ D

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It feels like Metta World Peace, a Queens native, was just meant to play for the New York Knicks. He’ll do just that after agreeing to a two-year deal with New York, on Monday, a move first reported by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski. World Peace’s arena football career will apparently have to wait.

MWP and J.R. Smith in the same locker room has the potential for fireworks, but if he can keep his personality in check, the enigma formerly known as Ron Artest gives the Knicks something they need on the floor: a strong defender who can spell Carmelo Anthony and allow the league’s leading scorer to play minutes at power forward, where he’s most potent.

The defense is more important. The Knicks had the third best offense in the league last season, but only three teams — Philadelphia, New Orleans and Chicago — regressed more defensively. New York ranked 17th on that end of the floor after ranking fifth in the 2011-12 season. But the Knicks could now have a strong defensive unit with Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, World Peace, Anthony and Tyson Chandler on the floor.

Potential New York rotation
PG: Felton, ?
SG: Prigioni, Smith, Hardaway
SF: Shumpert, World Peace
PF: Anthony, Bargnani
C: Chandler, Stoudemire

If Anthony is now back to being more of a four than a three though, New York has two back-up bigs – Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire – who will make more than $32 million next season and really hurt the team defensively. If Mike Woodson dares to play the two together, his goatee will be gray by December.

New York also needs to find a third point guard to give Woodson the option of playing Prigioni at the two, a key to the team’s success at the end of last season. Furthermore, World Peace – whose effective field goal percentage (47.0 percent) and true shooting percentage (49.7 percent) over the last three seasons are both well below the league average – adds to the Knicks’ list of one-way players.

If they’re going to truly contend in the improved Eastern Conference next season, New York will need Chandler to play more like he did in ’11-12 than he did in ’12-13. He clearly regressed last season, failing to make the defensive impact that he made when he was voted Defensive Player of the Year.

There are still some questions to be answered, but New York is certainly a better defensive team now than they were 24 hours ago. And they’re certainly a lot more interesting.

Kirilenko, KG Help Nets Take Key Defensive Step Forward

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – “Defense wins championships” may feel like a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

Of the 24 teams to make The Finals over the last 12 years, 23 ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency during the regular season, and the 24th – the 2006 Dallas Mavericks – ranked 11th. Over the same span, six teams that ranked 13th or lower in offensive efficiency made The Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs improved from 11th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to third last season, a big reason why they came just a few seconds from their fifth championship. The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies got themselves into the conference finals with the two best defenses in the league.

The Brooklyn Nets? They weren’t getting anywhere close to The Finals with the league’s 19th best D. In fact, they couldn’t get to the conference semis because they played some of the most atrocious defense you’ll ever see and allowed the injury-depleted Bulls to score 62 points in the first half of Game 7 of the first round.

Since the Nets had no way of getting Dwight Howard or Andre Iguodala this summer, about the best thing they could do was add Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko. At this point, Paul Pierce is almost an after-thought acquisition because of how important KG and AK-47 will be.

Garnett is the best defender of the last decade. In fact, of the 275 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes over the last six seasons, none has had a lower on-court DefRtg than Garnett. Over his six years in Boston, the Celtics allowed just 96.0 points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor and 101.4 with him on the bench.

Lowest on-court DefRtg, last six seasons

Player MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Kevin Garnett 12,266 106.8 96.0 +10.9
Tony Allen 8,278 102.6 96.4 +6.2
Taj Gibson 6,690 102.9 97.0 +5.9
Paul Pierce 15,744 106.6 98.3 +8.3
Paul George 6,194 103.7 98.4 +5.3

Minimum 5,000 minutes played
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions

(Curious who’s at the bottom of this list? The answer: Charlie Villanueva (109.8), Andrea Bargnani (109.5) and Ryan Gomes (109.2).)

Of course, though Garnett continued to have a big defensive impact last season, he is now 37 years old and limited to 30 minutes per game, maybe less. That’s why landing Kirilenko with their tax payer’s mid-level exception on Thursday was so huge for Brooklyn.

(By the way, the MLE only became available when the Nets couldn’t reach a buyout agreement with Bojan Bogdanovic – whom they drafted in 2011 – and his Turkish team. Whoever that GM is in Turkey, he shouldn’t ever have to buy a drink in Park Slope or Fort Greene.)

Kirilenko doesn’t have nearly the same on-court numbers as Garnett (his teams have allowed 103.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court over the last six years), because the Jazz were more of a middle-of-the-pack defensive team while he was there and last year’s Timberwolves were same. But both were better defensively with Kirilenko on the floor. He has all the tools – length, athleticism and instincts – of a great defender.

Plus, the Nets have added a great defender for when Garnett rests. In fact, if Kirilenko plays the same 32 minutes per game that he played last year, he can spell both KG and Pierce at the two forward spots and the Nets won’t have to rely on Reggie Evans nearly as much as they did last season.

Even if Pierce or Garnett are out with an injury, the Nets have fill-in starters in Kirilenko and Evans. Joe Johnson is able to slide over the the three, Mason Plumlee is a rookie who looks ready to contribute and Mirza Teletovic as a stretch four. Though Kirilenko will take some of his minutes, Teletovic’s ability to recover from a rough rookie season and spread the floor will still be important.

When the Nets committed $313 million to Deron Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez a year ago, many of us thought they were locked into that group for years to come. But we should have never underestimated the power of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s deep pockets. They’ve managed to add Pierce, Garnett, Kirilenko and Jason Terry, while retaining Andray Blatche, who gave them big production off the bench last season. Luxury tax be damned, this is the best top eight in the league.

Blatche, of course, is mostly getting paid by the Wizards. But while Kirilenko is a bargain at $3.1 million per year, he’s really costing the Nets upwards of $15 million when you factor in the additional luxury tax they will have to pay.

So Prokhorov is clearly all-in for a championship in the next two seasons. You never know what’s going to happen over the next 11 months, but Prokhorov and GM Billy King have done everything they can to put their team into position to compete for a championship. And it starts with what should be a much improved defense.

Raptors GM Ujiri Prepared To Stand Pat After Swinging Bargnani Trade

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Masai Ujiri is some kind of miracle worker.

How else do you explain how he was able to get rid of Andrea Bargnani less than a month after taking over as general manager of the Toronto Raptors and get three draft picks in return? When it comes to addition by subtraction, it’s hard to remember a better trade.

Bargnani is a no-D, tunnel-vision shooter who hasn’t shot well over the last three seasons and is owed more than $22 million over the next two. The Raptors should have been sending picks out to grease the deal, not getting picks in return.

So put another notch on Ujiri’s belt for the deal that netted Toronto a first-round pick and two second rounders from New York. After taking over in Denver, he turned Carmelo Anthony into a package that helped keep the Nuggets near the top of the Western Conference. Now, he’s turned Bargnani into assets that could be used to add another piece to the Raptors’ young core.

Is that other deal coming soon? Probably not.

Speaking with the media on Wednesday, Ujiri made it sound like he’s sticking with the team he has for now. The Raptors will likely head into training camp with a rotation that looks something like this…

PG: Kyle Lowry, Julyan Stone
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross
SF: Rudy Gay, Steve Novak
PF: Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough (reported deal, but not yet signed)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray

The wing combination of DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay is not optimal, especially at $27 million a year. The way the league is going, you need shooters at those positions to space the floor. Neither DeRozan (28 percent from 3-point range last season) nor Gay (32 percent) is much of a threat from the perimeter, a situation made worse by the lack of a stretch four (that doesn’t mean they should have kept Bargnani).

It would be understandable if Ujiri wanted to make more moves to add shooting, make better use of his team’s capped-out payroll, or maybe even sacrifice the coming season for the sake of the future. But he seems content with fielding a team that will neither be terrible nor very good.

“We’re going to take it as it comes and see what comes our way,” Ujiri said Wednesday. “We’re going to be aggressive out there, but we also owe it to see what we have on our team instead of doing something stupid, like quickly. If something reasonable comes our way and we feel that it’s something that’s going to help the Toronto Raptors, then I will do it.”

Ujiri also said that its his job to put together a team that fits its coach. Dwane Casey is a defense-first guy and the Raptors were much improved defensively after the Gay trade. They allowed just 101.3 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would have ranked in the top 10) and were a plus-60 (despite the shooting issues) in 923 minutes with DeRozan and Gay on the floor together last season.

Furthermore, Ujiri has two second-year players — Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas — who could take major steps forward this season. The summer between a player’s first and second season is critical, and how much the pair has improved over these few months will certainly help determine the direction the Raptors go in.

Right now, Ujiri says, “I don’t know what direction that is.” He just knows that he doesn’t want to tank, because “winning is what you want to build around.”

There are some minor things Ujiri has to take care of. He needs to work out a trade or buyout for Marcus Camby, who has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be in Toronto. He has to decide if he’s going to waive Linas Kleiza via the amnesty clause. And he needs to find a back-up point guard. (Ujiri may like Julyan Stone, but he played a grand total of 27 minutes in Denver last season.)

This roster is basically what the Raptors will look like come October. And maybe that’s good enough to make the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that has experienced quite a bit of change over the last two weeks. Maybe it’s not.

Either way, Ujiri has already put his stamp on the franchise. And given his track record, it’s hard to question anything he does.

Got Shooting? It’s Going Fast

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2012-13 season shall forever be known as the year of the three. There were 3-point records set on the individual, team and league levels. And Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of The Finals will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Furthermore, there was a much stronger correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of a team’s shots from 3-point range than we’d seen previously. With one notable exception — the Denver Nuggets — the best offenses in the league shot a lot of threes, or at least shot them very well.

Top 10 offenses, 2012-13

Team OffRtg 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank 3PA% Rank
Miami 110.3 717 1,809 39.6% 2 28.5% 5
Oklahoma City 110.2 598 1,588 37.7% 3 24.4% 12
New York 108.6 891 2,371 37.6% 5 35.4% 1
L.A. Clippers 107.7 627 1,752 35.8% 16 26.5% 8
Denver 107.6 521 1,518 34.3% 25 21.7% 22
Houston 106.7 867 2,369 36.6% 9 34.9% 2
San Antonio 105.9 663 1,764 37.6% 4 26.4% 9
L.A. Lakers 105.6 715 2,015 35.5% 19 30.3% 3
Brooklyn 105.0 628 1,760 35.7% 17 26.9% 7
Golden State 104.2 658 1,632 40.3% 1 23.9% 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range

The Nuggets were upset in the first round when they couldn’t make 3-pointers and, more importantly, couldn’t stop the Warriors from making them. And now, Denver is without the three guys who made the most 3-pointers for them last season. Danilo Gallinari (135) is recovering from ACL surgery, Corey Brewer (91) is a free agent (who could come back), and Andre Iguodala (91) is heading to Golden State.

There’s a lot more to success in this league, but if you want to compete for a championship, you need guys who can knock down long-distance shots. There were several available on the market and a handful of good teams that needed them to take the next step. A couple of those teams will be signing a couple of those shooters. Here’s a look at the contending teams that needed shooting the most and what they’ve done to address the problem…

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 100.4 (24), 3PT%: 35.3% (21), 3PA%: 18.9% (29)
The Bulls’ offense will obviously be better with the return of Derrick Rose, but they still need better perimeter shooting to complement their penetrating point guard. They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2011-12, but then said goodbye to Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson.

They’re heading back in the right direction this summer, upgrading from Marco Belinelli (35.7 percent) to Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent), who ranked third in 3-point percentage among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. There are few players in the league better than Dunleavy at coming off pin-down screens and draining threes on the wings.

Jimmy Butler should also be a more dangerous shooter, especially with Rose coming back. After shooting just 1.3 threes per game at 38 percent in the regular season, Butler shot 3.1 per game at 41 percent in the playoffs. No. 20 pick Tony Snell is known as a shooter, but hit just 64 threes in 35 games at New Mexico last season.

The Bulls haven’t exactly turned into last year’s Knicks when it comes to shooting threes, but they have taken a step forward.

Denver Nuggets

OffRtg: 107.6 (5), 3PT%: 34.3% (25), 3PA%: 21.7% (22)
The Nuggets took a big step backward by losing Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos to Memphis. And we don’t know if they’ll play the same fast-paced, attacking style under coach Brian Shaw that they did under coach George Karl.

But Denver will get one of the better shooters on the market by sending Iguodala out via a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors and Jazz that brings them Randy Foye, who ranked second among free agents with 178 threes last season and shot them at a 41.0 percent clip. Foye will likely split time at shooting guard with Evan Fournier, who shot a solid 22-for-54 (41 percent) in limited regular season action last season (and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs).

The Nuggets will also have a full season of Wilson Chandler, who shot well after returning from injury last season. Denver’s defense will most certainly fall off without Iguodala, but the Nuggets might actually have a little more inside-out balance to their offense.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.6 (19), 3PT%: 34.7% (22), 3PA%: 24.5% (11)
Like the Nuggets, the Pacers thrive in the paint (just not as well). And the No. 1 defense in the league helped them make up for their lack of shooting. But they could have used a few more weak-side threes against the Heat’s aggressive defense in the conference finals, when Lance Stephenson shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over his last six full seasons, Danny Granger hit 901 threes at 39 percent. And with Granger set to return from the knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season, returning team president Larry Bird didn’t have to do a thing to improve his team’s 3-point shooting.

But Bird went out and got Watson (41 percent last season) and Chris Copeland (42 percent) to give his team some more punch off the bench. No. 22 pick Solomon Hill was also decent shooter (39 percent on threes) at Arizona. He might not play much as a rookie, but he can’t be a worse from the perimeter than defensive specialist Sam Young was.

Last season, Frank Vogel only had D.J. Augustin — a defensive liability — to turn to when he needed more shooting on the floor. Now, he’s got plenty of options.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 101.7 (18), 3PT%: 34.5% (24), 3PA%: 16.6% (30)
The Rudy Gay trade didn’t change much for the Grizz, who made a league-low 4.6 threes per game after the deal. And they have yet to do anything in free agency to improve their perimeter offense. Tony Allen, returning on a new contract, is the definitive shooting guard who can’t shoot. Even their top draft pick — Jamaal Franklin — is a wing who doesn’t shoot very well.

The Grizzlies still have their mid-level exception to spend. And there are a couple of shooters still left on the market (see below). They also have a trade exception worth almost $7.5 million to absorb a contract from a team willing to deal them a shooter. But right now, they look like they could rank last in the league in 3-pointers for a second straight season.

Still on the market

For the Grizzlies and other teams still looking for shooters, the pickings are rather slim. Here are their six best options (in order of how many threes they hit last season), all of which come with issues …

Nate Robinson — 141-for-348 (40.5 percent)
Robinson had his best shooting season with the Bulls. And though he was mostly the Bulls’ back-up point guard, 101 of his 141 threes were assisted, so he can certainly play off the ball. He has improved defensively and is certainly making better decisions than he was earlier in his career, but it still isn’t easy for a coach to trust him with the ball in his hands for big minutes.

Wayne Ellington — 94-for-240 (39.2 percent)
Of the free agents that are still available, only three — Brandon Jennings (173), Robinson and Alan Anderson (95) — hit more threes than Ellington did last season. He was a decent role player in Memphis before it sent him to Cleveland for financial flexibility.

Gary Neal — 89-for-251 (35.5 percent)
Neal hit six threes in Game 3 of The Finals, but shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season (31st among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes) after shooting 42 percent in his first two years with the Spurs, who have seemingly swapped him for Belinelli. (They didn’t have an Italian on their roster, after all.)

Roger Mason Jr. — 66-for-159 (41.5 percent)
Of the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only 11 shot them better than 40 percent. And only two — Robinson and the Pelicans’ Mason Jr. — are still on the market. Mason doesn’t do much more than make threes, but you can do worse if you need a fifth guard on your roster.

Mo Williams — 59-for-154 (38.3 percent)
Jazz starting guard Williams can handle the ball or play off it. In his two seasons playing next to LeBron James, he shot 43 percent from 3-point range, and only two players — Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen — hit more threes than Williams did over those two years. But he played a career-low 46 games last season and defense is an issue.

Anthony Morrow — 16-for-43 (37.2 percent)
There was a point a few years ago when Morrow qualified as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. He’s still a great shooter, but doesn’t have as quick a release as some others, struggles when he needs to put the ball on the floor, and is a defensive liability. He couldn’t get off the bench for the Mavs as they were making their playoff push last season.

Three more points

  • The Timberwolves were by far the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but should move up the rankings with a healthy Kevin Love (who shot 22 percent), a healthy Chase Budinger (who shot 32 percent) and with the addition of Kevin Martin (who shot 43 percent for OKC). Martin’s presence will also mean that they’ll need less minutes from Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour (who may be traded) at the two. The pair combined to attempt 500 threes last season, connecting on only 30 percent of them.
  • Brooklyn shot a lot of threes last season, but didn’t shoot them particularly well. Things will get better with Paul Pierce (38 percent) replacing Gerald Wallace (28 percent) at small forward. But Watson (41 percent) was their best 3-point shooter last season and he’s been replaced by Shaun Livingston, who has made a grand total of nine threes in 390 career games. Assuming that coach Jason Kidd will have one of his starters — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Pierce — playing with the second unit, a back-up point guard who can shoot (Toney Douglas, perhaps?) would have been a better option. Either way, the Nets’ success could be determined by the ability of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic to knock down shots and keep Pierce and Kevin Garnett fresh.
  • The Clippers were another team that shot a lot of threes at a mediocre percentage. And while they’re getting two great shooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they’re replacing two guys — Caron Butler (39 percent) and Willie Green (43 percent) — who shot rather well from 3-point range last season. (Green is still on the roster, but likely out of the rotation.)

Howard An Upgrade For Houston, But Role Players Still Critical

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Say what you want about the way Dwight Howard has carried himself away from the basketball court over the last couple of years, the way he has held the basketball world hostage on multiple occasions, and the way he walked away from the Lakers less than a year after requesting a trade out of Orlando. Feel free to question his character or his ability to be a leader.

The bottom line is that he’s an impact player on both ends of the floor and the Houston Rockets are happy to have him (assuming he doesn’t change his mind in the next five days). Over the last five seasons, Howard’s teams have outscored their opponents by 1,989 points with him on the floor and have been outscored by 231 points with him on the bench.

Highest raw +/-, last five seasons
Player +/-
LeBron James +3,330
Dwyane Wade +2,055
Dwight Howard +1,989
Tim Duncan +1,872
Kobe Bryant +1,822

Plus-minus always needs context, but a five-year sample speaks of both talent (on both offense and defense) and durability. And over the last five years, only two players have had a higher plus-minus than Howard (see table to the right), who didn’t have much of a supporting cast until he went to L.A.

Last season, though his mobility was limited as he recovered from back surgery, Howard still made an impact defensively. The Lakers allowed just 101.7 points per 100 possessions – which would rank 10th in the league – with him on the floor, but 107.8 – which would rank 28th – with him on the bench. Their weak-side defense was consistently atrocious, but he held them together with his paint protection.

(In 586 minutes with Howard on the floor and Kobe Bryant on the bench, L.A. allowed just 98.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark which would rank third, behind only Indiana and Memphis.)

When Howard was on the floor, only 31.7 percent of opponent shots came from the restricted area. When he was on the bench, that number was 37.3 percent. Not only did he keep opponents away from the basket, but the Lakers also fouled less and rebounded better when he was on the floor. Those numbers are a reflection on the guys replacing him as much as they are on Howard, as well as an indication that the Lakers’ defense will be awful next season.

Omer Asik is a very good defensive center himself. In fact, Rockets opponents only attempted 30.3 percent of their shots from the restricted area with Asik on the floor last season. And his on-off-court DefRtg differential (5.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) was almost the same as Howard’s (6.0).

Asik isn’t the shot-blocker that Howard is, but he doesn’t foul quite as much and was a better defensive rebounder than Howard last season. Asik grabbed 30.3 percent of available defensive boards when he was on the floor, while Howard grabbed 27.5 percent.

We can expect Howard to be more mobile and, therefore, more of a defensive force next season. And he’ll play more than the 30.0 minutes per game that Asik logged for Houston last year. An additional six minutes of great defense every night is worth about three spots in the defensive rankings and two more wins in the standings.

But if the Rockets are to improve from 17th in defensive efficiency to the top 10 (where a team needs to be in order to truly contend for a title), they’ll need better D on the perimeter in addition to the upgrade from Asik to Howard. (It’s assumed here that they trade Asik before the season. If they have both centers, then they have 48 minutes of rim protection, a top 10 defense, and less depth on the perimeter.)

Offense is where Howard is a bigger upgrade over Asik. In his three-year career, Asik has shot 56 percent – worse than the league average – in the restricted area. In the same three seasons, Howard has shot 68 percent in the restricted area. A bigger target with better hands, he also gets more shots there.

The Rockets ranked sixth offensively last season, scoring 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Only two teams – Denver and Detroit – took a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area, only one – New York – took a greater percentage of its shots from 3-point range, and only three – the Lakers, Thunder and Nuggets – attempted more free throws.

Turnovers were an problem. The Rockets committed 16.6 of them – most in the league – per 100 possessions. Asik was responsible for a lot of them, but Howard’s turnover rate was almost as bad in L.A. And Houston will make up for the miscues by taking the right shots and getting to the line.

The shooting numbers from the field should be even more extreme next season, because Howard isn’t going to be shooting many pick-and-pop, mid-range jumpers. And, of course, about a third of L.A.’s free throws are moving to Houston. James Harden and Howard ranked first and third, respectively, in free throw attempts last season. Now, they’re both on the same team and foul trouble for Houston opponents promises to be a regular occurrence.

For the Rockets to reach optimum efficiency, Howard needs to shoot better from the line. Over his last two seasons, he has shot just 49 percent on free throws, making each trip worth only 0.98 points. Over his first seven seasons, each trip was worth 1.20 points, more than a shot from the field (1.15 points).

Either way, the Harden/Howard pick and roll promises to be deadly, especially if the Rockets surround the pair with 3-point shooting. Chandler Parsons (38 percent from beyond the arc last season) is a good start, but more shooters are needed and Carlos Delfino (38 percent) will be missed. Bringing back Francisco Garcia (37 percent) on a minimum contract (a deal reported Saturday afternoon) is a good move. But if Houston can’t pry Ryan Anderson from the Pelicans, the development of Donatas Motiejunas as a stretch four will be critical.

So Rockets general manager Daryl Morey still has some work to do. He’s acquired two stars in the last 10 months, but needs to build the right supporting cast around them. And it’s all about perimeter defense and perimeter shooting.