Posts Tagged ‘Jose Calderon’

Warriors stand together in huge OT win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Golden State guts out big overtime win in Dallas

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal will always be remembered most for his days as an Indiana Pacer. But now the 18-year veteran seeking one last shot at glory plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team that’s fought through injury and adversity, and down the pressure-packed stretch run just might be the antithesis of O’Neal’s fraying former club.

Starting at center once again Tuesday night for the injured Andrew Bogut in a game magnified by playoff implications for both the Warriors and Mavericks, O’Neal ripped Dallas for 20 points, eight rebounds and one massive, game-altering blocked shot. Late in the fourth quarter, Mavs guard Monta Ellis dunked over O’Neal to give Dallas a 102-97 lead and a wave of momentum in an arena buzzing with playoff-style excitement. This time, as Ellis tried to turn the corner, O’Neal made his move. He snared Ellis’ baseline fallaway with his right hand with 11.6 seconds to go in overtime, and in one motion brought it down and fed it out to Draymond Green, who got it to Stephen Curry, who ended it with a tough, contested jumper over Jose Calderon from the left wing with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

As time expired, the Warriors, rallying late in the fourth and again in overtime, celebrated the 122-120 victory as furious Mavs owner Mark Cuban, befuddled that no goaltending was called on O’Neal, engaged in an animated discussion with the referees.

“When he dunked it, I was a second slow, almost the same identical play,” O’Neal said. “This time, I’m understanding where I need to be and Klay [Thompson] did a great job on making him pick up his dribble and really it was just perfect timing. It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it. I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that [goaltending].”

The victory, achieved in front of Warriors owner Joe Lacob — who is taking in the road tripdulled the pain of Sunday’s home loss to the New York Knicks. That defeat came on the heels of another dramatic victory, this time against a Memphis team that, like Dallas, is trying to not just make the playoffs but had the sixth-seeded (and David Lee-less) Warriors within their sights.

The margin for error in Tuesday’s game was as razor thin as the separation in the standings. A Dallas win would have moved them one-half game behind Golden State, who now head to San Antonio to grapple with the Spurs’ 18-game win streak. Instead, it’s the Mavs who slipped from seventh to out of the playoff picture in ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix.

This one carried tremendous importance for the Mavs. They were just 4-3 heading into their final game of a franchise-long eight-game homestand. All three losses came down to the wire, two in overtime. This was one they simply had to have, but couldn’t get against a team that came in lacking frontcourt starters Lee and Bogut.


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks about the Mavs’ tough loss at home to the Warriors

“Heartbreaker,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who did all he could with 33 points and 11 rebounds.

The Warriors, feeding off a belief that many see them as down and out, found a different interpretation of a wild 53 minutes in Big D.

“This is late in the year and I have seen teams say how easy it is to let go of the rope,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “This is a team that’s not going to do it. Contrary to anything, we’re not going to do it. This is a quality win against a team  that had everything going their way and I’m proud of these guys. They deserve the credit.”

Jackson called his bunch a “tied-together team,” and emphasized, “I don’t think you need more evidence.”

Sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who had 27 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:01 to go in regulation, played up the Warriors’ unbreakable mindset.

“People think we’re down and out, it just proves we have a lot of basketball in us,” Thompson said. “We never hang our heads. We might have done that in the past, but this is a changed team. When we get those guys [Lee and Bogut] back, we’ll be even better.”

Said Curry on the heels of his second last-second game-winner against Dallas this season: “We understand that we lost some games that we should have won, but we don’t listen to any noise outside our locker room. For us, we understand we still control our own destiny. If we take care of our business we’ll be fine. So if we shut out all that noise, it’ll be the best situation for us.”

As the Warriors cleared out of the cramped visiting locker room, O’Neal, 35, hadn’t finished saying his piece, hadn’t finished putting this season, expected to be his final one, in perspective for himself, his team and everybody who follows it.

“So many people around us are trying to tear us apart,” O’Neal said. “I’ve never seen, even in your own town, so much adversity and so much negativity around a team that’s really striving to do special things. It baffles you a little bit, but it says a lot about our head coach, our staff, an organization that really supports us and keeps us in open arms. And it says a lot about these guys in this locker room who aren’t willing to let negativity tear us apart.

“We’re going to continue to try to learn and be a better team, continue to learn from our mistakes and I think tonight showed that we have a  lot of character on this team. We don’t have a lot of extended playoff experience, but we’re learning and we’re learning on the fly, and we’re fighting.

“We’re fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for our coach, we’re fighting for our city, we’re fighting for our organization.”


VIDEO: The Warriors bask in their big win in Dallas

Mavs’ Offense Clearly Improved, But Defense Can’t Find Its Footing


VIDEO: Tim Duncan and the Spurs topple the Mavs in Dallas

DALLAS – When the Dallas Mavericks were putting together a championship season, they played very good defense. All five players worked on a string, each movement was made in sync.

During the regular season, the 2010-11 Mavs ranked seventh in the league in defensive efficiency (102.3 points per 100 possessions). With Tyson Chandler defending the paint, a heady and still-capable Jason Kidd locking down opponents late in games and a spry Shawn Marion taking on all comers, Dallas took out LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

But as that title team has been stripped, the defense (revealed by its defensive efficiency) has eroded: 8th in 2011-12 to 20th last season to 23rd now. As not altogether unexpected, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon rank as the worst defensive backcourt in the league. The up-and-down Samuel Dalembert is the best option to man the middle. The backups are undersized reserves Brandan Wright, a lanky, 6-foot-10 offensive-minded player who missed the first 23 games with a shoulder injury, and 6-foot-7 ground-bound scrapper DeJuan Blair, who actually seized the starting job for a couple of weeks. Marion, 35, is a step slower, but is still asked to switch onto point guards out of necessity.

This challenged defensive mix threatens to exclude a mostly entertaining offensive product from postseason play.

“It’s almost been pretty consistent throughout the year,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “There might be one or two instances  I remember that we didn’t score enough to win down the stretch, but other than that, all the other losses, it’s giving up too many points. We gave up 116 again [Thursday], almost 30-point quarters across the board. It’s tough. It puts a lot of pressure on our offense.”

Dallas’ offense can be very good. Yet in the high-powered West, the Mavs’ 103.9 ppg ranks just sixth-best. Their offensive rating of 105.8 (points scored per 100 possessions) ranks seventh. Combine it with the turnstile defense and Dallas’ net rating of 0.9 (the difference in a team’s offensive and defensive rating) leaves it ninth among the 15 squads.

The only other Western Conference team currently occupying a playoff spot (or even above .500) despite a defensive efficiency in the bottom 15 of the league is the one with the league’s best record: the Portland Trail Blazers (at 104.5, just one spot better than Dallas at 22nd). How can that be? The Blazers boast the No. 1 offense — no team makes more 3-pointers per game — and they’re No. 5 in rebounding percentage. Not only can’t Dallas stop anybody, but it also sits 26th in the latter category.

“It’s team defense that has to happen for us to get over the hump and we know that,” sixth man Vince Carter said. “We have to get stops and rebound. We’ve understood that since Day 1 coming into training camp. We just have to get better at it.”

In Thursday’s 116-107 loss to San Antonio, the Mavs (16-13 and eighth in the West) surrendered more than 110 points for the ninth time. In its last four games, Dallas has scored 108.5 ppg, yet is 1-3 because it allowed 113.0 ppg. The Spurs shot 49.3 percent and other than a late two-minute stand that got Dallas back in the game, San Antonio had its way.

“It’s easy to look at our roster and nitpick our challenges,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got age, we’ve got some size issues, we’ve got this, that and the other. If you want to make a laundry list, it’s not hard to make a list. But my job is to be a problem-solver and not a problem-identifier.”

Carlisle said it’s the media’s job to identify problems. This one can be seen a mile away. The Ellis-Calderon pairing, as praiseworthy as it has been as an efficient and effective tandem with Nowitzki, is a sieve defensively. Opposing point guards tear them apart. That’s not so much a surprise, but it is a critical problem that lacks an identifiable answer — at least until guard Devin Harris can finally provide support once he returns from a season-long toe injury.

Among guards that have played at least 20 games and average at least 28.0 mpg, only New Orleans’ Eric Gordon (107.9) owns a worse defensive rating than Calderon (107.3) and Ellis (107.0). The Lakers’ Steve Blake (106.3) and Jodie Meeks (105.8) are the only other tandem to rank among the bottom 10.

Ellis logs 36.8 mpg. When he’s on the floor, Dallas’ defensive rating swells to 107.0. When he’s off the floor, it drops to 98.2. The numbers are similar for Calderon, who averages 31.1 mpg: 107.3 when he’s on the floor and 100.9 when he’s off.

“We’ve got to get it done with the lineup we’ve got,” said Nowitzki, whose on/off defensive rating is rather impressive. “I feel like we have a better team than we’ve had the last two years. I feel we’re letting some games slip away here and there and that’s going to hurt our playoff chances. But, I still think we have enough to make a push at the playoffs.”

Everybody knows from where that push must come.


VIDEO: Shawn Marion talks after the Mavs’ loss to the Spurs

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

***

No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Hang Time Q&A: John Wall On ‘His Wizards,’ The Evolution Of His Game And RG III




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is far from a finished product. And he knows that better than anyone. 

The Washington Wizards’ point guard and one of the budding stars in a league filled with potential young stars, Wall is currently working through the process of handling responsibilities as the face of a franchise and a player capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Wall’s off-the-court leadership has grown considerably the past couple of seasons and might be the most critical component for a Wizards franchise that has invested in him for the future to the tune of five-years and $80 million.

Wall reflected on his journey, his future, the Wizards’ playoff hopes, Robert Griffin III and much more in a recent sit down with NBA.com:

NBA.com: What is different about this vibe of this group as opposed to last year or the year before?

JOHN WALL: I think how we came back as a group when I returned from my injury and just playing with the guys, we all liked each other as a team, even though we weren’t winning as much, and enjoyed playing with each other. It’s a trust thing. It’s the first time I can honestly say in my three years playing here that we all enjoyed one another. Nobody cared who scared who scored. We were all committed to what coach wanted us to do defensively and that’s how we came into this season and knew how good we could be.

NBA.com: What about the consistency factor, you guys had so many names and faces come in and out of the lineup? There’s been a lot of movement, personnel wise, since you were drafted.

JW: Basically, the biggest thing was staying consistent in everything we do. Me, trying to get healthy and doing the same things to get better. Staying consistent and knowing what guys you would have on the team in a given year and that guys weren’t going to get traded. We’ve got a good core of guys that we know will be there and what we want to do with those guys. It helps when you are planning long term because a plan is in place and you know exactly what your roles are and what you need to do.

NBA.com: Guys always talk about that turning point or that moment when the light goes on for them. For you, was that moment sitting out the start of the 2012-13 season, learning, watching, processing what goes on from a different perspective other than being on the court?

JW: I think that was the biggest turning point for me, sitting out that long, even though I didn’t want to sit out. Just getting the chance to study the game better helped me. Watching my teammates and seeing what they were great at and then knowing how I could come back and make the situation better, is what helped me. I think those guys made it a lot easier for me. Having Nene and Emeka Okafor knock down shots and finish. Having Brad [Beal] and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza playing as well as they played. It was the first time I had guys do that and trust in me to lead the team and be their point guard. It makes a difference.

NBA.com: When you came into the league the East was loaded with top teams from Boston, Miami and Chicago to Atlanta and even Orlando. Things have changed dramatically since then. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Is there a now or never feel to this season for you guys, sort of like the door is open and you better get through it now or else …?

JW: It’s a great opportunity. And if you fall short right now, you are basically not committed to getting to where you want to be in this league, whether it’s the playoffs or whatever. My first three years, everybody was loaded. Now there is like four or five teams rebuilding at the same time. And that’s rare in this league. You have to make sure you have a good understanding of where you are as a team and be ready to jump in there if it’s your time. And I think it’s our time right now.

NBA.com: You had an owner (Ted Leonsis) who wasn’t shy about putting the pressure on his shoulders and also yours in terms of bringing the franchise back to a playoff level. He’s banked on you being an elite player and a franchise player. Does that add any extra pressure when you are already the No. 1 pick in your Draft and get the huge contract extension?

JW: I could tell the difference last season when I came back from my injury, just by the type of conversations I was having with my coach (Randy Wittman) and the things we were talking about and my owner and the meetings we were having. It wasn’t just about me improving and getting better, it was about a vision we all had for me and what that means for this team and this franchise. Being in on the planning process and being there from the start makes it different. The general manager coming to me throughout the summer and letting me know this is my team and making sure I understand that I have to lead, that’s all a part of the plan now. And I think I’ve put in the work to do it.

NBA.com: People always talk about putting in the work, but how has your work ethic changed since you’ve been in the league?

JW: My rookie season I didn’t know what to expect coming in. My second year was kind of tough because it was the lockout year. I was working my tail off but I really didn’t know what to do, because there was so much uncertainty. Last year was my first year to really understand the NBA game and comprehend what it was I needed to do and what I needed to work on. Then I get diagnosed with the knee injury and everything went sideways. So this summer I came in early and made sure everything was right, made sure I was healthy. And learning how to change the pace of a game, working on my body and improving my jump shot, those were the things I worked hardest on. I’m constantly getting better in all facets of my game and I think I can keep getting better and better.

NBA.com: Has the leadership component, particularly the vocal part, been tough for you? You’re not an older guy and you certainly don’t strike me as a very talkative guy. How hard do you have to work to remind yourself to be a leader in that respect?

JW: Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] helped me work on that. I’ve always been a guy that led by example. The vocal part I worked really hard on at Kentucky. He basically said you have to learn how to talk to certain guys. And you can’t go out and try to fuss and cuss guys out. You have to respect each and every guy in your locker room as a man. So I think that’s something I improved in. It helped that when I came back last year my teammates trusted me to be that guy, both with the ball in my hands on the court and without the ball in my hands off the court. Talking to them helped me improve in that area.

NBA.com: You’re also a part of USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team group. When you’re out there with all of the other best young players, all of the other top young point guards, what changes in terms of how you handle yourself and compete in that environment as opposed to being the face of the franchise in Washington?

JW: The toughest thing with that is you get to thinking like high school, especially when all the top point guards are out there. You want to battle it out with those other guys. But you are ultimately out there for USA Basketball, and that’s bigger than your name or the franchise you represent. So you try and just go out there and just play the game and get better, but also show the people in charge at USA Basketball that you can do whatever is asked of you if you are lucky enough to get the call and get asked to play in one of the international competitions. So it’s not an ego thing when you are in that environment.

NBA.com: You seem so much more measured and relaxed about things these days. Is this the most comfortable you’ve been on and off the court since you’ve been in the league?

JW: Yeah, 100 percent. I’d say 120 percent, the most comfortable I’ve been just talking to anybody and going into games, being on the court, and just feeling confident knowing this is the old me. My first three years, I was always kind of searching, how do I present myself and how do I do this or that the right way? The uncertainty is gone. This is the hardest position in the league to me. Every night somebody is coming at you. Seriously. You get no breaks. People can look at the schedule and you see Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon and those guys aren’t always talked about, but some of the toughest challenges I have is against guys like that. Because you have to show them the same respect you do a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

NBA.com: You have a unique dynamic in D.C. right now, being the young face of a franchise in a city where another player in similar position (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III) is going through a similar stage of his career at the same time. How strange is it to watch that roller coaster from so close and comparing it your own evolution?

JW: I feel for him right now, I really do. There are some parallels, but then again it’s totally different. He started off hot, Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff. My first couple of years there was a learning curve, some stumbles and a lot of learning to do. Now I feel like I’m finally getting there now, hitting my stride and now he’s struggling. It’s tough and it’s also a reminder of why you have to stay humble and hungry no matter what’s going on around you. Take nothing away from him, he’s still that same guy and still humble and hungry. But you have to be mindful of the fan base and what type of support they’re going to show you. When you’re struggling it gets frustrating for the fans and even more frustrating for us, because you know what you want to do for your city, the things you want them to experience with you playing your heart out day after day. It’s the same for him and the Redskins as is it for us, we’ve got a lot of young talent and people want that to turn into winning. The fans do and so do we.

Rooks Burke, Larkin Thankful To Be Healthy Again


VIDEO: Trey Burke talks after his home debut with the Jazz

DALLAS – Even for a couple of positive thinkers, there seemed little to be thankful for soon after Shane Larkin felt his ankle pop and Trey Burke crushed his finger.

A couple of eager, 21-year-old first-round point guards ready to storm into their NBA careers instead made forced pit stops onto the injured list. Larkin, the 18th pick out of Miami by the Dallas Mavericks, broke his right ankle as he planted for a dunk during a summer practice. Surgery was mandatory. Summer League ended before it started. Training camp? Preseason? Start of the regular season? Pipe dreams.

“At that point, the first reaction is to be negative,” Larkin said. “I worked so hard to get here and we have four point point guards on the roster and now I’m going to be at the back of the pack.”

The Utah Jazz traded up to nab Burke at No. 9 and planned all along for the national college player of the year to run their squad from the jump. In his third preseason game, Burke tried to make a pass off the pick-and-roll as he had thousands of times before, but this time the quick hand of an NBA defender got in the way and collided with his right index finger. Crack!

He would next check into an operating room.

“There was nothing I could do,” said Burke, the catalyst in Michigan’s run to the NCAA title game. “I was disappointed and frustrated, but I knew I had to keep my conditioning up and learn from the sideline. I didn’t know how long I was going to be out so it was disappointing for me because I really hadn’t had an injury like this since middle school.”

As their rookie campaigns reach Thanksgiving, the familiar foes from their AAU days — Burke from Columbus, Ohio, and Larkin from Cincinnati — are both thankful to be playing again. Each has had a slow start shooting and has played less instinctual than either would like, but that’s how it goes jumping stone-cold into a season in progress, robbed of so much practice time and game experience.

“I practiced four times and he threw me out there against Philly,” Larkin said, referring to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.

Thrown into the fire


VIDEO: Trey Burke finishes strong at the basket against the Bulls

As complete a player as there was last season in college, Burke is four games into his NBA career and has started the last two. His first home start Tuesday, a desperately needed overtime win for the 2-14 Jazz over the Bulls, was one to remember: 14 points, four assists and six rebounds while making key plays. He logged a career-high 34 minutes.

“It all comes down to confidence really, not putting too much pressure on myself and going out there and just playing,” Burke said last week. “I know the sets, I know where guys are supposed to be. I know what works for us and what doesn’t, so I think it’s just about picking and choosing my spots, not putting too much pressure on myself and not forcing things.”

Slick and cat-quick, Larkin played in his sixth game Wednesday and it was his best yet with seven points, six assists and no turnovers while garnering clutch fourth-quarter minutes among the 17 he played. It took just two games for him to unseat fellow rookie Gal Mekel as the primary backup behind starting point guard Jose Calderon. Veteran Devin Harris (toe surgery) is expected to make his season debut some time before Christmas, adding more intrigue in the battle for minutes.

“It’s been tough,” the 5-foot-11 Larkin said last Friday after the Mavs held on to beat Burke and the Jazz in Dallas. “Just getting back into the rhythm of everything and making the correct reads off the pick-and-roll and just my whole overall game, it’s just not all the way back yet.

“Trey had an advantage of playing in Summer League and a little in preseason before he broke his finger. But he’s doing well out there. It’s just a matter of him getting back in his rhythm as well because he’s been out four or six weeks. So both of us just getting back to our rhythm and playing how we played in college — that’s why our teams drafted us.”

Bad breaks


VIDEO: Shane Larkin discusses his solid performance against the Warriors

Just weeks after being drafted, the Mavs’ Summer League team was days removed from departing for Las Vegas. For the final five minutes of that July 12 practice, Mavs assistant coach Monte Mathis wanted to run one last full-speed, full-court drill. Larkin made a steal, went coast-to-coast, planted on his right foot to go up for a dunk as he has thousands of times before and – pop!

“I thought it was a really, really, really bad sprain because when it happened I heard the pop, but I got up and I walked to the training room and my ankle didn’t swell up,” Larkin said. “But then I put ice on it and after I took the ice off it just started swelling and then I knew something was wrong.

“They took me to the team doctor, got X-rays, got an MRI, found out it was broken, had surgery four days later. They said the force on my ankle was like a car crash.”

Burke had a tough introduction at Summer League in Orlando and also through his first couple of preseason games. In the first quarter of that third game on Oct. 12 against the Clippers, his right index got bent in a way it is not intended.

“At first I thought it was dislocated. I tried to pop it back in place and go back out and play,” Burke said. “But it didn’t feel right. I had an X-ray at halftime and you could see there was a break.”

Reduced to spectators following their surgeries, both players reverted back to being students, doing all they could to soak up their respective playbooks, learn the play calls and the tendencies and personalities of their new teammates while watching them grind out practice after practice.

“Honestly, you want to be out there with your teammates,” Burke said. “It was an unfortunate break, but It was just something where I had to see the game from a different perspective, find ways to learn from the sideline. I was on the bench, as then with Johnny [Lucas III] coming in here and showing me different things on the film; I was watching other good point guards, looking at their pace and things like that. I think that all helped me out and gave me a better understanding of how I want to play for this team and how I want to make plays for this team.”

Larkin would be watching practice when either Carlisle or an assistant coach would turn and point at him.

“Coach would throw a question at me like, ‘Hey rook, what do we do here?’ and I’d have to know the correct answer,” Larkin said. “That’s kind of the way they built trust in me because I knew what was going on.”

And now the rest of the season

Larkin’s minutes off the bench have been fairly steady, and at times have come in key situations. But he also got the pine treatment two games ago after some sloppy play and logged barely four minutes. Carlisle, though, clearly wants to utilize his change-of-pace quickness at both ends of the floor on a mostly veteran team that needs dashes of speed. Larkin is averaging 3.7 ppg and 2.2 apg in 12.6 mpg.

“I’ve started making some drives to the basket and my confidence is getting back,” Larkin said. “So it’s just a process of keep building every single game to get back to where I want to be and where coach wants me to be as a player.”

Burke, averaging 8.5 ppg, 3.0 apg and 3.5 rpg in 21.5 mpg (a figure likely to rise in a hurry), has the more daunting and less forgiving task, running a team in total rebuild and that was 1-11 when he was cleared to play. Still, Burke said he relishes the challenge.

“Honestly, it reminds me of my freshman year at Michigan. Obviously this is another level, this is the pros and the best players in the world, but I had to go right into Michigan and learn right away,” Burke said. “I had to jump right in, play that starting position and I had to learn quickly.

“I think with the vets on the this team are doing a good job of sheltering me, letting me know what’s right and what’s wrong. They trust me so with their trust that gives me more confidence out there.”

Fans will be seeing more of Burke and Larkin, two eager point guards who got an early lesson that good health in the NBA is always something for which to be thankful.

Ellis, Dirk Spoil Dwight’s Monster Night


VIDEO: Dirk and Monta Ellis run roughshod over the Rockets in comeback win

DALLAS – This was Dwight Howard‘s big night, a made-for-national-TV highlight reel. His coming-back party.

The big man couldn’t miss from the floor, flushing alley-oops at will and swooping through the lane for lefty hooks as if he invented it. He made his first 11 shots, not missing until three minutes deep into the fourth quarter. He was even on fire, as much as Howard can be on fire, from the free throw line.

With a big lead in tow, Howard was strutting toward a season-high, which he got with 33 points on 12-for-16 shooting, and a Hack-a-Dwight-defying 9-for-13 from the stripe. The Houston Rockets were headed for a road romp, a beat down of their division-rival Dallas Mavericks, losers in the Howard sweepstakes no matter how Mavs owner Mark Cuban has tried to spin it. Again prior to Wednesday’s game, Cuban couldn’t help himself, suggesting the best deals are sometimes the ones you don’t make, and that it’s way too early to determine whether Howard or the Mavs’ new guy, Monta Ellis, will ultimately be the most impactful free-agent addition.

Through three quarters, Ellis was putting on a show to be sure, but it was Dwight truly announcing his presence and taking names.

Until Ellis, the erratic shooting guard Cuban signed with his leftover free-agent cash, and the venerable all-timer, Dirk Nowitzki ended the party. The duo hijacked Dwight’s night with one of the great two-man performances of the season — and in recent memory — in a rousing 123-120 win, rallying all the way from 93-75 late in the third quarter when the capacity crowd actually started to file out.

The Nowitzki-Ellis tally is eye-popping: 72 points on 26-for-38 shooting. Ellis, playing with a chip on his shoulder the size of Howard’s bicep, went off for a season-high 37 points on 13-for-18 shooting and eight assists. Nowitzki poured in a season-best 35 points on 13-for-20 shooting, along the way overtaking Pacers Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller for 15th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It was an all-time efficient two-man binge: 4-for-9 from beyond the arc, 16-for-19 from the free throw line, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

Yet it all seemed headed for footnote status on the highlight shows as Howard’s two-handed slams would play over and over.

In the fourth quarter it all ground to an inexplicable halt for Howard and Houston, which officially has a closing problem. It left coach Kevin McHale bleary eyed and exasperated.

Nowitzki and Ellis outscored the Rockets, 22-19 on 9-for-11 shooting. Heck, Nowitzki and Jose Calderon outscored them 21-19. Howard suddenly couldn’t buy a bucket, going 1-for-5 in the quarter, and he got stripped late by Nowitzki in the paint as everything fell apart. Harden missed shots and hopelessly chased foul calls. Chandler Parsons, 4-for-5 from beyond the arc and playing beautiful basketball with 11 assists through three quarters, didn’t take a 3 or dish a dime in the final 9:17 he played.

In the first three quarters, Houston scored 40, 28 and 33 points. Then poof. Again. Rockets fourth quarters are becoming as collapsible as a rickety lawn chair. One reason they’re now 8-5 and looking up in the standings at the surprising 8-4 Mavs.

“It’s growing pains,” Howard said afterward. “Something we have to learn from. We’re a young team. We’ve got to realize what we have in the locker room and what we can do as a team when we play the right way on both ends. We didn’t do that at the end of the game.”

While early season ogling has mostly been reserved for the Portland Trail Blazers’ 10-2 start, the Mavs now quietly boast the same record through a dozen games as the mighty Los Angeles Clippers and those lovable Golden State Warriors. They’re also 6-0 at home.

Ellis, devouring the doubts of his many skeptics and especially the analytic stat-crunchers, has been remarkably efficient playing alongside Nowitzki — 23.3 ppg on 49.5 percent shooting – who is happy as all get out to tag along for the ride after slogging through last season’s offensive quicksand. It’s not lost on anyone that Ellis has a better shooting percentage than Dirk.

“We’re really just playing off of him,” Nowitzki said of his newest sidekick. “He’s been aggressive, he’s handling the ball well, but what’s been great is that he has been making plays for others. He’s making all of us better. We run a lot of screen-and-rolls for him; I don’t know how he does it, but he gets everyone involved and it’s been fun to play with him.”

On a night Dwight dominated, the Mavs had the better twosome for the four full quarters. And it’s beginning to look like something the rest of the league better take note.


VIDEO: Nowitzki talks about passing Reggie Miller on the all-time scoring list

Israeli Rookie Gal Mekel Emerges From Mavs Debut Ready For More


VIDEO: Mavs introduce Gal Mekel, other rookies to media

DALLAS – Gal Mekel woke up early on the eve of his NBA debut to do a teleconference in Hebrew with Israeli reporters. He headed to practice, followed by a bit of treatment and finally back home to relax with his dad and aunt who flew halfway across the world to witness his big night.

Before long it was time for bed.

“I went to sleep,” Mekel said. “And I slept good.”

Slept good? Who sleeps good the night before their first NBA game? Not only that, but pressure would be high for him to play well in the season-opener against the Atlanta Hawks. The re-tooled Dallas Mavericks are down veteran point guard Devin Harris and first-round draft pick Shane Larkin. Mekel, the 6-foot-3 rookie from Petah Tikva, Israel, is all Dallas has behind starters Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.

There was good reason to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

“I remember, after the fact, I was in Portland, I was an assistant coach there when [Arvydas] Sabonis came over,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Sabonis was as big a name out of Europe as you were going to find, and as I got to know him during the year he kind of reflected back to the first game and he said it was the most nervous he had ever been.”

For the better part of his eight minutes, 51 seconds during Dallas’ 118-109 victory, Mekel, 25, played as if he’d been here before. He’d make his first appearance with 3:05 to go in the first quarter, open the second quarter and then help to maintain the Mavs’ lead in the critical early portion of the fourth quarter. He finished with two points, two rebounds, three assists and two turnovers. He was respectable defensively, at times, having to check emerging Hawks starting point guard Jeff Teague.

“Gal gave us eight great minutes,” Carlisle said. “Those minutes are really important. Otherwise, our two starting guards are walking out of here playing 38, 40 minutes and you’ve got to resuscitate them and try to have a practice [the next day].”

Mekel was a minus-2 overall, meaning the Mavs were outscored by two points when he was on the floor. Dallas never lost its lead with Mekel in charge of the offense.

“I think for a first game, the minutes I was on the court, I helped the team and from here I want to keep going, developing,” Mekel said. “I really believe I can be a good player in this league. I can really feel it. I just need to get to know everything better, get more experience. It was great to open with a win and I’m looking forward to Friday.”

Tonight, the Mavs visit the Houston Rockets (8 ET, League Pass). Most will see it as Dallas against Dwight Howard, the premiere free agent who shunned Dallas and joined rival Houston over the summer. It’s also Mekel vs. Omri Casspi, the only Isreali ever drafted in the NBA. The game will be televised live in Israel.

On Wednesday morning, Mekel arrived at the American Airlines Center for shootaround. He went home, ate lunch, took a nap and then made his back to the arena, arriving around 4:30 p.m. After some stretching inside the Mavs’ locker room, Mekel took the court for warmups.

At the other end of the floor, Hawks rookie point guard Dennis Schroder, the first first-round pick from Germany since Dirk Nowitzki, was finishing his pre-game workout. Mavs player development coach Mike Procopio pointed out to Mekel how Atlanta assistant coaches were instructing Schroder to come off screens. Assistant Mavs coach Darrell Armstrong then ran Mekel through shooting drills from various spots on the floor.

“He’s a flashy player,” Armstrong said. “One time on the plane after a preseason game I went back and counted all the behind-the-back passes he made. It’s just a natural thing for him going right to go behind-the-back. Teams will read his tendencies. You learn in this league that the simple plays are the keys to this game.”

After a session of resistance running with athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple, Mekel headed back to the locker room, but not before granting the pleas of fans that had gathered in the front row seeking autographs and pictures. Back in the locker room, he ate a yogurt and a granola bar. Then he put on the uniform for real for the very first time.

“Of course I’m excited, it’s the first game,” Mekel said. “I’m coming with a lot of energy.”

Dallas led 26-18 when he made his first appearance. Early on he got caught in no-man’s land and lost his dribble. He directed a pass toward DeJuan Blair, but it skipped out of bounds. With time running out in the first quarter, Mekel grabbed a defensive rebound, motored up court, dipped inside the free throw line and drew a foul. With 1.7 seconds to go he made both free throws for his first NBA points, and Dallas led 33-28.

Adjusting to the speed and athleticism of his opponents is Mekel’s greatest challenge. In the second quarter, Teague made him pay with a pretty crossover for an easy basket. Soon after, Mekel would exit, but the Mavs still led 41-36.

“As a player it’s always the next play,” Mekel said. “You forget what happened and you move forward. All my life I was a good defender. I like this challenge to guard people. It’s fun for me.”

He’d return early in the fourth quarter with Dallas leading 86-79. A slick baseline bounce pass through the lane led to a Jae Crowder 3-pointer and when Mekel left the game for good with 8:10 remaining, the Mavs were still in control, 94-88. He did not attempt a behind-the-back pass.

“I’m a guy that learns pretty fast and learns from everything to get the experience,” Mekel said. “I think I can really do some corrections fast. For me, it’s just be ready to help the team. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, who’s injured, who’s out; be ready all the time, and that’s the right mentality of a player.”

One Team, One Stat: Three Efficient Scorers In OKC


VIDEO: OKC shines in true shooting percentage

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Finally, we look at the Oklahoma City Thunder, who led the league in point differential, but couldn’t overcome Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in the playoffs..

The basics
OKC Rank
W-L 60-22 2
Pace 95.9 10
OffRtg 110.2 2
DefRtg 99.2 4
NetRtg +11.0 1

The stat

3 - Players the Thunder had in the top 7 in true shooting percentage (minimum 500 FGA).

TS% = PTS / (2* (FGA + (0.44*FTA))).

The context

No. 1 – Kevin Durant: 64.7 percent

Durant led the league in true shooting percentage despite taking the fifth most shots in the league. LeBron James was the only player to also rank in the top 25 in both field goal attempts and true shooting percentage.

James was the better shooter from the field, but Durant was the more efficient scorer because of his ability to get to the free throw line (215 more times than James) and shoot 90 percent on all those freebies. He was the 11th player in NBA history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the line, and had the highest true shooting percentage (thanks to the highest free throw rate) of the 11.

No. 5 – Serge Ibaka: 61.2 percent
Ibaka was one of two players (Chris Bosh was the other) who ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage from both the restricted area and mid-range (where he led the league).

No. 7 – Kevin Martin: 60.8 percent
Martin is somewhat of a rare breed: a great 3-point shooter (he ranked 10th last season) who gets to the free throw line quite a bit. And he converted those free throws at the fourth-highest rate in the league.

Highest true shooting percentage, 2012-13

Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA FT% eFG% TS%
Kevin Durant 731 1,433 51.0% 139 334 41.6% 679 750 90.5% 55.9% 64.7%
LeBron James 765 1,354 56.5% 103 254 40.6% 403 535 75.3% 60.3% 64.0%
Kyle Korver 277 601 46.1% 189 414 45.7% 67 78 85.9% 61.8% 63.7%
Jose Calderon 312 635 49.1% 130 282 46.1% 72 80 90.0% 59.4% 61.6%
Serge Ibaka 446 778 57.3% 20 57 35.1% 143 191 74.9% 58.6% 61.2%
Tiago Splitter 315 563 56.0% 0 2 .0% 208 285 73.0% 56.0% 60.9%
Kevin Martin 350 778 45.0% 158 371 42.6% 219 246 89.0% 55.1% 60.8%
Carl Landry 325 602 54.0% 1 3 33.3% 223 273 81.7% 54.1% 60.5%
Martell Webster 281 636 44.2% 139 329 42.2% 168 198 84.8% 55.1% 60.1%
Danny Green 297 663 44.8% 177 413 42.9% 67 79 84.8% 58.1% 60.0%

Take those three guys and a guy who can put defenses on their heels like Russell Westbrook, and you’re going to have a very efficient offense. OKC ranked second in offensive efficiency last season, just a hair behind the Heat, who were the best shooting team (in terms of effective field goal percentage) in NBA history.

How much Martin’s departure will hurt? Yes, he was the third scorer on the Thunder, but Martin played 391 minutes without either Durant or Westbrook on the floor last season. Durant played just 44 minutes* without either Martin or Westbrook, and Westbrook played just 26 minutes without either Durant or Martin.

*He could top that in the Thunder’s first game in Utah on Wednesday.

The Thunder held their own (both offensively and defensively) in those minutes that Martin was on the floor without the two All-Stars. And don’t assume that it was mostly garbage time; 239 of the 391 minutes came before the fourth quarter.

Thunder efficiency, 2012-13

On the floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Durant + Martin + Westbrook 1,073 117.5 103.2 +14.3 +301
Durant + Westbrook, no Martin 1,546 108.4 97.2 +11.2 +311
Durant + Martin, no Westbrook 456 110.8 99.4 +11.4 +77
Martin + Westbrook, no Durant 216 106.5 100.9 +5.7 +5
Martin by himself 391 104.7 97.1 +7.7 +55
Durant by himself 44 121.3 81.6 +39.8 +32
Westbrook by himself 26 120.5 78.7 +41.8 +17

Stars win championships, but depth gets you through the regular season grind. The Thunder will need to figure out where their second-unit offense is going to come from.

Once Westbrook returns, Thunder coach Scott Brooks can stagger the minutes of his two stars, so that one or the other is always on the floor with the second unit.

Until Westbrook returns, Durant is going to have to carry a bigger load. That could mean that he averaged 35 points a game for the first month, but it also could mean that both his and the Thunder’s efficiency takes a hit.

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

Hawks Rookie Schroder Wows Countryman, Role Model Nowitzki

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DALLAS – Impressive.

The face of the German national team over the past decade-and-half didn’t hesitate to put forth the one-word assessment. Dirk Nowitzki got his first in-game introduction — a full 36-minute showcase in Wednesday’s preseason game between the Mavericks and Hawks — to 20-year-old point guard Dennis Schroder, the 6-foot-1 future of the German team.

With Hawks starting point guard Jeff Teague taking the night off, the rookie got his first start of the preseason and scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting with four assists and a pair of steals. For much of the game he was as billed — quick, agile with a flashy handle, a nuisance to defend and, yes, overall impressive. His game, like the tattoos that stretch the entirety of his seemingly endless arms, screams American streetball over the German professional league he was recently shredding.

“This was really my first time seeing him go up and down, and he already impressed me in the [pre-Draft] workout,” Nowitzki said. “For as young as he is, his court presence is pretty good, the way he’s talking, just his overall — swagger is a stupid word, but it’s there. He’s got a confidence about himself. He’s fast, he’s got long arms. I think he’s going to have a good career in this league.”

If it sounds like Nowitzki, 35 and entering his 16th season, might have enjoyed having his potential pick-and-roll partner in international competition (assuming Nowitzki opts to play again) on the Mavs, there could be some truth to it. The Mavericks, slated to pick 13th in the 2013 Draft and still seeking a long-term answer at point guard, scouted Schroder during a pre-Draft workout.

It was there, on the Mavs’ practice court, that Nowitzki met Schroder. He marveled at his abundance of raw talent and handed him his phone number, telling the youngster to text him any time he needed to talk.

“I text with him a lot and he gives me advice every time when I need something,” said Schroder, who left Germany at the same age that Nowitzki once did. “His career is amazing. Every German player looks up to him, and same with me.”

On Draft night, Dallas traded down to 16th with Schroder still on the board. They traded down again to 18th and selected Miami point guard Shane Larkin, whose development has been stunted by a broken ankle sustained during Summer League preparation. Schroder was gone, taken 17th by the Hawks, becoming the first native German drafted in the first round since Nowitzki went No. 9 in 1998.

Rookie shows flashes of growth

Schroder’s preseason has been a mix of blinding promise and inevitable learning curve. His eight buckets against the Mavs was one fewer than his preseason total entering the game. He’s 17-for-45 from the floor (37.8 percent), 2-for-15 from beyond the arc (13.3 percent) and just 4-for-8 from the free throw line. His seven turnovers Wednesday, a concern going back to Summer League, jumped his preseason total to 19. He’s averaging more turnovers per game (3.8) than assists (3.4).

“It’s an amazing feeling to play in the NBA right now,” the 168-pound Schroder said. “You have to get used to it because the European leagues, how they play is completely different. The preseason has helped me a lot and the Summer League, too. Every point guard here is strong and athletic, so I have to try to get stronger and try to compete every game.”

The misfires and turnovers are buffered by the skill and raging potential: the pivot at the elbow that freed him for a jumper that swished through; the crossover dribble and step-back against Shawn Marion for another mid-range jumper that dropped; the blow-by into the lane for a layup and later for a kick out; the baseline hesitation and spin past Jose Calderon that drew a foul.

“He’s made a lot of good, positive impressions on all of us, including myself,” first-year Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Defensively he has some natural ability to be disruptive and have an impact on the game. That’s where he’s going to earn everybody’s respect and earn his minutes. But offensively his ability to use his speed and get in the paint, his decision-making, his vision, for his age we’re excited about how he can grow.”

Hard work in Germany pays off

In soccer-absorbed Germany, only now is Schroder beginning to create something of a buzz. He is also not the typical face of German basketball. One glance tells you he is not Uwe Blab, Detlef Schrempf, Nowitzki or even Tim Ohlbrecht.

Schroder was born and raised in Braunschweig, a city of about a 250,000 people located in the northern part of Germany, some 220 miles north of Nowitzki’s much smaller hometown of Wurzburg. His mother is from Gambia, a small country on Africa’s west coast, and his father, who passed away several years ago from heart failure, was German. Schroder’s first language is German and he speaks fluent English.

At 16, when he learned of his father’s failing health, he promised to abandon the skateboard he spent many hours tooling around on to make a hard push in basketball, and to take care of his mother and siblings.

He played in the top German league, one of only a handful of black German players, rising quickly from a minimal bench role his first season and later into a star. He said he hopes he’s opened doors for a rising number of young, black basketball players behind him: “It’s not easy to play in the German leagues and you’re black. My best friend, he plays in the German League, too. It’s not easy, but I hope I opened the door for him, too, so he can make it one day in the league.”

Schroder’s 28-year-old sister and her 6-year-old daughter moved and live with him in his Atlanta home. His 25-year-old brother will join them in the coming months.

A fitting reunion with a role model

Schroder officially begins his NBA career next Wednesday in the Hawks’ season-opener in Dallas. In a coincidental, if not appropriate, twist, the paths of Germany’s top basketball exports over the last 25 years will come full circle.

“I told him that it’s actually funny, my first game in the NBA was against Schrempf, and I was the young guy, he was the old guy playing in his last couple years,” Nowitzki said. “There was a bunch of German media and this year is the same thing. I was on the road back then, too, and he’s going to start here against me and I’m obviously the older guy now and he’s the younger guy. He’s impressive. He’s only going to get better. He’s obviously got to learn to shoot off the dribble a little better, shoot the 3-ball, but everything else is there.”

Whether Nowitzki and Schroder ever play together on the German national team remains to be seen. Nowitzki opted not to play in last summer’s European championship coming off the first knee surgery of his career. Schroder passed up his first opportunity to concentrate on settling into his new city and team. At the European championships last month, the undermanned German squad failed to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and is unlikely to receive one of the final wildcard spots.

That halts the country’s international competition likely until 2015 at the qualifying tournament for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Nowitzki, who guided Germany to the 2008 Games but didn’t get back in 2012, has expressed a desire to make one last run at Olympic glory. Noting that he will be 38 in 2016, he isn’t making any promises just yet.

“I hope he plans [to play] so we can play together,” Schroder said. “Every German player wants to do that, to play with him, and that is my dream.”

One Team, One Stat: Mavericks Shoot Bad Shots Well

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Dallas Mavericks, who are, once again, putting new pieces around Dirk Nowitzki.

The basics
DAL Rank
W-L 41-41 17
Pace 96.2 8
OffRtg 103.6 11
DefRtg 104.0 20
NetRtg -0.4 16

The stat

32.7 - Percentage of their shots that the Mavs took from the restricted area or the corners, the lowest rate in the league.

The context

Shots from the restricted area and in the corners are the two most efficient shots on the floor, both worth about 1.2 points per shot across the league last season.

The Mavs have been unique in passing them up and mostly getting away with it. With Dirk Nowitzki leading the way, they’ve been a good and high-volume mid-range shooting team. And they had a top-10 offense for 12 straight years, beginning with Nowitzki’s second season in the league and ending with their championship season in 2010-11.

The season after the lockout, the Mavs fell to 20th offensively, but were still a top-five mid-range shooting team. The same was true again last season, but they had very little scoring inside. Shawn Marion‘s 188 baskets in the restricted area led the team, but ranked 63rd in the league. And in addition to Nowitzki (437/62), they had two bigs – Elton Brand (206/133) and Chris Kaman (296/193) — that took more mid-range shots than shots from the restricted area.

Both guys can knock ‘em down, and it certainly pays to have bigs who can step outside and shoot. But while there’s a positive correlation between offensive efficiency and mid-range shooting percentage, there’s a stronger negative correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of shots you take from mid-range.

Mavs shooting by area, 2012-13

Area FG% Rank %FGA Rank
Restricted area 60.9% 12 27.1% 29
Other paint 42.7% 3 17.8% 3
Mid-range 42.2% 3 31.4% 8
Corner 3 36.5% 23 5.6% 20
Above-break 3 38.0% 2 17.8% 11

Basically, it’s good if you can shoot 2-point jumpers well, but it’s bad if you depend on them too much. As we learned from Evan Turner, even if you shoot mid-range shots well, you can be more efficient by taking better shots.

The following video is from an April 2 game in L.A., one the Mavs really needed to have a shot at making the playoffs (they were just a game in the loss column behind the Lakers at the time). They shot a decent 42.4 percent from mid-range, but those shots accounted for 33 of their 81 shots (41 percent) . They took just 15 shots in the restricted area, just four from the corners, and just 12 free throws. So, even though their shooting wasn’t awful, they got held to 81 points by what was a below-average defensive team.


The Mavs were one of three teams — Cleveland and New York were the others — that shot better on above-the-break 3-pointers than they did on corner threes last year. So again, they shot the bad shots (above-the-break threes being bad relative to corner threes) well.

But that’s probably not sustainable. And the guy that led the Mavs with 64 attempts (71st in the league) from the corners was O.J. Mayo, who is now in Milwaukee.

It’s another fascinating supporting cast that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have brought in this season. Monta Ellis ranked ninth in the league with 475 mid-range shots last season, and shot them worse than anyone else in the top 20. Jose Calderon, meanwhile, was one of the best mid-range shooters in the league and also a great 3-point shooter, but doesn’t shoot from the corners much.

Devin Harris will get to the rim, and there’s no worry about DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert taking too many jump shots. But neither big will dominate down low .

More important will be how the bigs defend. After ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, the Mavs ranked 20th defensively last season. (Not breaking news: Kaman is neither Tyson Chandler nor Brendan Haywood on that end.)

If Nowitzki is healthy all season, the Mavs should be OK offensively. And they can be better than OK if they find ways to get better shots.

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