Posts Tagged ‘Jrue Holiday’

Report: Pelicans Shopping Gordon

Eric Gordon is averaging 15.6 points and 3.1 assists a game for the Pelicans (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Eric Gordon is averaging 15.6 points and 3.1 assists a game for the Pelicans (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

From NBA.com Staff Reports

In the summer of 2012, the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) matched the Phoenix Suns’ four-year contract offer to free-agent guard Eric Gordon. Since then, though, the relationship between Gordon and the Pelicans hasn’t always been rosy (he famously said his “heart was in Phoenix” when he signed his offer sheet with the Suns, hoping the team wouldn’t match the deal).

Now comes a report that the Pelicans are trying to work out a deal to trade Gordon and are interested in a multi-team deal to get a trade done. Sean Deveney of The Sporting News has more on what’s going on with the shooting guard:

A little more than two years after acquiring him, and 18 months after matching a four-year, $58 million offer sheet from Phoenix, the Pelicans remain active in their pursuit of trading guard Eric Gordon, league sources told Sporting News this week. New Orleans has made contact with several teams about Gordon, even devising three-team scenarios in order to find him a new home.

The Pelicans first began seeking trade options for Gordon last summer, after acquiring point guard Jrue Holiday from Philadelphia on draft night and getting swingman Tyreke Evans in a sign-and-trade from Sacramento. There was some hope at that time that the Suns might remain interested in Gordon, but after Phoenix brought in Eric Bledsoe in a trade, that interest had dwindled.

The Pelicans are desperately seeking frontcourt help, particularly a center they can put next to blossoming star Anthony Davis. New Orleans sent Robin Lopez to Portland in the offseason as part of the deal that landed them Evans, but have not been able to replace him. For the last four games, coach Monty Williams has gone with Alexis Ajinca, signed from the French League last month, as his starting center.

The news that New Orleans is looking to deal Gordon came just minutes after news broke that starting point guard Jrue Holiday is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right leg. Aside from Holiday’s injury, the Pelicans have also been without sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, who is also out indefinitely after suffering a herniated disk against the Celtics.

One issue the Pelicans may encounter in trying to deal Gordon, Deveney writes, is getting fair value for him. Gordon’s stock has plummeted since he first landed in New Orleans as part of the deal that sent Chris Paul to the L.A. Clippers:

The problem with dealing Gordon is that the Pelicans are unlikely to get fair value. In his first two seasons with New Orleans, he played just 51 of 148 possible games, dealing with a variety of injuries. Around the league, the belief was that Gordon was bitter with New Orleans management for having matched the offer from Phoenix.

Gordon has been healthy this year, and is averaging 15.6 points on 43.9 percent shooting, making 38.5 percent of his 3-pointers. But that production doesn’t match up with his contract, which calls for Gordon to make more than $14 million this year and $30 million over the next two years (he has a player option on the final year of the deal).

“He has been healthy and he has played better,” one league executive told Sporting News. “But he is a still a long way from living up to what you have to pay him. His contract is still the big reason they are not able to do anything with him at this point.”

The hope for the Pelicans this year was to play Gordon in a three-guard look with Holiday and Evans. Ideally, that lineup would have been effective and, at the same time, rebuilt Gordon’s value should the Pelicans decide to trade him. Partly out of necessity with the Anderson injury, Williams has been using that lineup more, but the lack of size (Gordon and Holiday are 6-3, and Evans is 6-6) hurts defensively.

The lineup that has those three on the floor with Davis and Anderson is easily the Pelicans’ best offensively, averaging 1.25 points per possession according to 82games.com, but is its second-worst lineup defensively (1.20 points per possession).

Injuries Open Spots, But Picking All-Star Guards Won’t Be Easy


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook will be out until after the All-Star break

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Kobe Bryant is going to win a starting job on the Western Conference All-Star team. A second round of returns has the Lakers star well ahead in votes among the West’s legion of worthy backcourt candidates. Bryant has played in just six games and although he could return from a fractured knee in time to play in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game at New Orleans, let’s assume that he will not play.

NBA All-Star 2014Oklahoma City’s injured point guard Russell Westbrook was well on his way to a fourth consecutive selection as one of seven reserves to be picked by Western Conference coaches until Friday’s stunning announcement that he underwent a third surgery on his troubled right knee. Westbrook will not be back in time for the All-Star Game.

That leaves (potentially) two backcourt spots up for grabs.

But first, ink Chris Paul in as the starter at point guard. He’s second in fan voting and in all likelihood won’t come close to relinquishing that spot as an automatic starter. Golden State’s Stephen Curry, last season’s sympathy case as the most notable snub, is third in fan voting and should start at shooting guard.

Now comes the difficult part for the West’s coaches: There’s so many worthy point guards — just point guards — that you could select an All-Point-Guard All-Star team even without Westbrook. Check this out:

PG: Paul

SG: Curry

SF: Damian Lillard

PF: Eric Bledsoe

C: Ricky Rubio

Bench: Tony Parker, Ty LawsonMike Conley, Jrue Holiday

OK, so it takes some of imagination there, but you get the idea how deep the West is at the quarterback position. Then you’ve got the shooting guards to consider. James Harden figures to be a lock for a second consecutive selection. And what about Klay Thompson, Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford, who felt he got dissed last year? Even 36-year-old Manu Ginobili can make a compelling case.

There’s plenty of basketball to go before fan voting ends on Jan. 20 (the starters will be announced on Jan. 23) and until the reserves are announced soon after, so selections could become more crystallized by then. But probably not.

So of five guards to get a 2014 All-Star nod, here’s my early locks: Paul and Curry as the starters with Harden as a reserve. That leaves two spots open.

Let’s begin with the power of elimination. As strong as they’ve been, apologies to Martin, Dragic, Matthews and Crawford. Holiday was an East All-Star last year and benefited from Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose being hurt, and even though he’s a hometown Pelican, I’m not seeing it. Rubio has gone from the magician everybody wants to see up close to standing in the back of the line.

Onto the rest. This is going to be tough and there could be not one, not two, not three … but even more deserving guards taking the snub.

Here’s a brief comparison of a few of the backcourt candidates that I don’t consider to be locks (in no particular order):

>Parker, Spurs – Scoring (17.8 ppg) and assists (6.0) are down, but he’s the irreplaceable team catalyst, San Antonio is rolling and it’s hard to see him not making it

>Lillard, Blazers – As clutch as any player going, the reigning Rookie of the Year is averaging 21.1 ppg, 5.8 apg and is shooting 43.1 percent on 3s for a team that’s taken the league by storm

>Bledsoe, Suns – A fearless competitor, has meshed beautifully with Dragic while averaging 18.4 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.3 rpg and is shooting 49.2 percent overall for arguably the most surprising team in the league

>Ellis, Mavericks – He’s turned analytics on its head, averaging an efficient 20.7 ppg — highest since 2007-08 — and 5.8 apg, and he’s as exciting swooping to the cup as anyone

>Lawson, Nuggets – He’s slowed a bit as the team has struggled recently, but still putting up 17.5 ppg, 7.9 apg and 3.4 rpg in a new, slower-tempo system

>Thompson, Warriors – The other half of the Splash Brothers, he’s scoring 19.6 ppg on 43.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc, plus 2.7 apg and 3.3 rpg.

>Conley, Grizzlies – He’s been garnering greater respect for a few seasons now and while the team has struggled, especially without fellow All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley’s averaging 17.0 ppg, a career-best, and 6.2 apg

Twice-Traded Vasquez Helping Raptors


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry scores 22 points as the Raptors stun the Thunder

DALLAS – Greivis Vasquez truly believed he was on the brink of great things in New Orleans. He had the best season of his career and the franchise was quickly picking itself up from the Chris Paul trade, positioned to burst into a new era as the Pelicans.

The Venezuelan-born Vasquez, a 6-foot-6 point guard, loved everything about it: The team, the city and his personal breakout — career bests of 13.9 ppg and 9.0 apg. The thickly bearded, 26-year-old believed he was only scratching the surface. He believed that he, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis could form the backbone of a hard-working club that would do right by the city and even, as he said last year, rise together in the mold of Oklahoma City and soon be a team to be reckoned with in the West.

Then came Draft night and the three-team trade Vasquez never saw coming.

“I guess you can’t turn down an offer for a Jrue Holiday,” Vasquez told NBA.com last Friday night prior to scoring 14 points in 15 minutes in Toronto’s overtime win against the Mavericks. “I felt like we had the same numbers. He was an All-Star and all that stuff, all that crap. Like I say, I’m really thankful because [New Orleans coach] Monty Williams gave me a chance. That whole franchise was first class and still is. It was such a great experience for me to just make a name.”

Holiday, fresh off his first All-Star season with Philadelphia, was NOLA’s point-guard prize. Vasquez went to Sacramento to start at point guard. Eighteen games in and he was gone again. The Kings’ sluggish start convinced new ownership and management to reach for Toronto’s maligned, but tempting small forward Rudy Gay, himself now twice traded in the past 11 months. Vasquez headed north of the border to another foundering franchise where starting point guard Kyle Lowry has swirled in trade winds since the Gay deal.

Funny, though, that just as the Gay trade seemed a weighted strategy to clear cap space and sink the season for prime Draft position, Vasquez and his quickly bonded teammates have turned the tables, winning four of five, including Sunday night’s handing of a first home loss to the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Toronto will try to make it three in a row against West competition tonight at San Antonio (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

“We got a great group of guys. We’re just here to do our job,” Vasquez said. “The media and everybody is going to have their own opinions. We just have to go out there and play and play hard, have fun. We can’t really guarantee that we’re going to get every win. But we can guarantee you that we are going to play hard and play the right way.”

In five games with Toronto, Vasquez has averaged 9.8 ppg, 4.0 apg and 2.8 mpg in only 18.6 mpg, far off the 34.4 mpg he averaged last season with New Orleans, and a chunk below the 25.8 he averaged starting for the Kings.

“It’s been rough, but this is one of those years I’ve got to keep grinding and keep working. I’ll be a restricted free agent [this summer] and we’ll see what happens,” Vasquez said. “It’s just the business. At first Sacramento was talking about building a future with me and then all of a sudden I get traded. If I’m going to get traded [again] it’s going to be this year because I am going to be restricted. I am going to have to sign with somebody and find myself a home.”

The Raptors, flush with added bench depth from the trade, have life. They’re just 11-14, but they’re also back in first place in the woeful Atlantic Division after Sunday’s win. Coach Dwane Casey, working in his uncertain final year, said earning the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2008 is the only goal.

“We’re at a crossroads with our organization, which way we are going to go,” Casey said Friday night at Dallas. “Right now we’re fighting like crap for the playoffs. I mean we’re right there. I know those guys in the locker room don’t want to hear anything else but competing for the playoffs because it’s all up for grabs.”

Same goes for Vasquez’s future. On his fourth team in four seasons,  Vasquez said he’s ready to plant some roots, somewhere.

“The biggest thing for me is just being happy and enjoying playing basketball,” he said. “I don’t think I was really enjoying playing basketball in Sacramento, so here I feel like I can re-find my identity and the way I play, the things I can do. Other than that, I can’t really control what is going to happen.”

Cheeks Wants Jennings To Step Up On ‘D’


VIDEO: Detroit at New Orleans, Dec. 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Jennings filled up the hoop with 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt out four assists.

As usual, that wasn’t the issue.

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings (Dan Lippitt/NBAE)

On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio ransacked The Palace by doing almost anything he pleased. Barely 24 hours later it was Jrue Holiday along with Tyreke Evans (on a tender ankle) who took apart the Pistons with dribble penetration.

There is room for all of the routine excuses — the Pistons are the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have so many different new parts still learning about each other and how to play together. But Wednesday night they played a Pelicans team that was without its best player in Anthony Davis and overcoming a horrid 6-for-18 shooting night from Ryan Anderson – and they still found a way to get past Detroit.

Mostly that way was straight down the middle.

A Pistons team that should have a stifling front line of the sizable Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has a defense that is ranked 19th in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

It’s enough to make Detroit fans long for the days of the Bad Boys and a couple of good forearm shivers.

That’s why coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for his point guard, Jennings, to take on his share of the defensive burden.

When he was asked whether he might “hide” Jennings in a run of three straight games against high powered point guards Holiday, Deron Williams (Nets) and Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) by switching the assignment to rookie Kentavious Pope-Caldwell, Cheeks threw down the gauntlet.

“Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” Cheeks said of the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good.”

Since he popped in 55 points as a rookie with the Bucks, Jennings has been all about his offensive ability. But in a league where point guard skill is more abundant than ever, if Jennings is going to get back into the headlines and crack the upper echelon, he’ll have to stop relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes and lack of commitment on defense.

Cheeks, who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders during his 15-year NBA career, wants his point guard to take the challenge personally.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. “You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players. You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

Pelicans’ Big Five Seeing More Time


VIDEO: Holiday, Pelicans knock off Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Sometimes, you just have to put your five best players on the floor.

That’s what New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams is able to do now that Ryan Anderson is healthy. And on Friday in Philly, Williams played his big five – Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis – for 18 1/2 minutes, the most they’d seen as a group in the six games since Anderson returned from a fractured toe.

Prior to Friday, the group had played almost half of its 32 minutes in the fourth quarter. But in Philadelphia, Williams went to the lineup midway through the first quarter, with Evans and Anderson replacing starters Anthony Morrow and Jason Smith. And the big five went right to work offensively, scoring 23 points on 11 possessions to end the period.

Evans attacked in transition, while Anderson and Gordon spaced the floor, getting easy 3s off pick-and-rolls here and here (video) thanks, in part, to the attention Davis drew in the paint. Davis is the Pelicans’ best player and that lineup’s success starts with him.

“When he runs the court, all of the attention focuses on him,” Anderson said. “So he leaves an open shot for me or, if we actually get set up down at the other end, Tyreke’s going to attack the rim and force a lot of attention himself. I think we just have a group of guys that really just know how to play in that lineup.”

That lineup struggled in a stretch during the third quarter, but overall, scored 54 points on 38 possessions on Friday, a rate of 142 per 100, which is pretty incredible.

Defense was another story, and that’s the trade-off. The Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis group allowed the Sixers to score 48 points on 36 possessions, a rate of 133 per 100, which is pretty terrible.

During that same first-quarter stint, they continuously got beat by Tony Wroten on high pick-and-rolls here, here and here.

“We try to get to that lineup, but that’s not a cure-all,” Williams said afterward. “It is a lineup that can cause problems. But we just have to learn how to defend and share the ball better.”

In 51 minutes through Friday, the lineup has scored 132 points per 100 possessions and allowed 116. So far, the great offense has outweighed the bad D. But Williams doesn’t just want to accept that trade-off.

“You can’t just put a defensive lineup on the floor [to get better defense],” Williams said before the game. “Whoever you put on the floor has to play better defense. We’re a month into it. Our guys are going to figure that out. I would like to find more minutes for that group.”

He did find more minutes for that group. Of course, more minutes for that group could mean a heavy burden for Holiday, Gordon and Davis, who start the game and with a different pair of forwards and will remain on the floor to give the big five a good run. Holiday and Gordon each played season highs in minutes on Friday.

Williams knows that Gordon, in particular, needs monitoring. He’s now played in 15 straight games for the first time since January of 2011.

“I want to play him more,” Williams said. “But I have to be aware that this is the most basketball he’s played in 2 1/2 years. So I didn’t want to rush him into it and I’ve been talking to him lately about how he feels.”

How many minutes the big five lineup gets, as well as how it performs both offensively and defensively, will be something to keep an eye on all season. Williams clearly likes bringing both Evans and Anderson off the bench, but he’s still searching for a starting small forward. Al-Farouq Aminu started the first 13 games there, but was replaced by Morrow on Friday.

“The [starting] lineup can change the next game,” Williams said. “That’s where we are right now. We haven’t gotten a ton of production out of our starting small forward position.”

They have gotten a ton of production – at least on one end of the floor – from the big five.

NBA All-Star Balloting 2014 Starts Now


VIDEO: How to vote for the 2014 All-Stars

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Welcome to NBA All-Star Balloting 2014.

The NBA returns its showcase weekend to New Orleans on Feb. 14-16 for the first time since 2008, and for the first time this festive host city’s home team goes by the name of the Pelicans. During a special event in New Orleans on Friday afternoon, the NBA  tipped off NBA All-Star Balloting 2014 presented by Sprint.

allstar-logo-2014-180Fans from around the world can now cast their votes to select the starters for the Western and Eastern Conferences. In addition to being able to vote on Facebook and Twitter, the NBA has expanding social media voting to include Instagram. Fans can use Instagram to vote by posting an original photo, using #NBABallot and the player’s first and last name in the photo caption. Fans can vote for 10 unique players per day.

NBA fans can also access the ballot and vote through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint apps, available on Android and iOS. Fans can fill out one full ballot per day, through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint application, the most comprehensive app in the marketplace for NBA fans.

Balloting concludes on Jan. 20, and starters will be announced live on TNT on Jan. 23, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off. The 63rd All-Star Game will be played on Feb. 16 at the New Orleans Arena.

This could be one of the most competitive voting periods in years. Intriguing story lines abound starting with the Pelicans’ own Anthony Davis, a second-year Western Conference frontcourt candidate who is putting up monster, All-Star-worthy numbers through the season’s first two weeks. But for Davis to secure a starting spot he’ll have to beat out frontcourt incumbents Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard, not to mention the return of Kevin Love to the West mix after missing most of last season with a broken hand.

Four other Pelicans are also on the ballot, including the starting backcourt of Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday, who made his All-Star debut last season for the East as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Sixth man Tyreke Evans as well 3-point specialist Ryan Anderson are also on the ballot.

In all, 120 players, 60 from each conference — 24 backcourt candidates and 36 frontcourt candidates — are on the ballot.

In the East, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose will be a heavy favorite to regain his 2011 and 2012 starting spot. Rose missed all of last season recovering from a knee injury. Could Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving join him as a first-time starter after making his All-Star debut as a reserve last year? Will Boston’s Rajon Rondo make it back from a knee injury in time to earn the votes and reclaim his starting job? Could Philadelphia 76ers rookie Michael Carter-Williams sneak his way in?

If there’s one vulnerable spot in the East it has to be the venerable frontcourt starter Kevin Garnett, who for the first time in his career is on the ballot as a Brooklyn Net. Last season he narrowly beat out Miami’s Chris Bosh for the right to start.

In the West, Kobe Bryant will try to make it a 16th consecutive All-Star start, which might or might not be affected by how long he remains out recovering from an Achilles tear. Could Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio join teammate Love as first-time starters? Or could three-time All-Star reserve Russell Westbrook earn the start alongside Durant? Early MVP candidate Chris Paul certainly will be tough to unseat as the fans’ choice for one of the two backcourt starting positions.

The players on the ballot were selected by a panel of media who regularly cover the NBA: Greg Anthony (NBA Digital), Mary Schmitt Boyer (Cleveland Plain Dealer/PBWA), Zach Lowe (Grantland), and John Reid (New Orleans Times Picayune).

Now it’s time for the fans to once again make their voices heard.

Five Players Who Need To Step It Up

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – We’re only approaching 10 games in, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to eyeball some concerning trends that could quickly become disturbing. I’ve pinpointed five players I believe have left something to be desired. Each is an established veteran who entered this season with a new and exciting situation, and high expectations.

1. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Supposedly happy in Houston, Howard’s stats — 18.2 ppg and 14.9 rpg — certainly look All-Star worthy. But take a deeper look. He’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, a mark not seen since his first two seasons in the league — and four percentage points lower than last season when he complained the Lakers didn’t get him the ball in his sweet spots. Yes, he and the Rockets, just 5-4, are adjusting, and this could take time, but Howard has looked awkward on the block and is shooting just 37 percent in the paint, per NBA.com stats. More discouraging is his free-throw shooting. He said he wanted to shoot between 75 and 80 percent — which was laughable. Instead he’s dragging a career-low 47.9 percent. Teams are already employing the Hack-a-Howard tactic and the Rockets are seeing how frustrating it is to have a big man who can’t make free throws in crunch time. They’ve been awful trying to close out games. And Hack-a-Howard isn’t just a late-game tactic anymore. The Sixers intentionally fouled him late in the first half of Wednesday’s game. Howard’s old club, the severely undermanned Lakers without Kobe Bryant, essentially won their game at Houston because Howard couldn’t make free throws when fouled on purpose.

There’s more. Where is the chiseled, 265-pound Howard’s passion? His passivity against the Lakers was mind-boggling, and running away from Lakers players attempting to intentionally foul him was embarrassing.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard gets the block of the night against the Sixers

2. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

A forgettable start to the season got worse with a stress fracture to his left shin that will sideline McGee indefinitely. A sluggish start might not rank high on the surprise list for many, but if there was ever a time the 7-footer was going to put it together, this seemed it. His new coach Brian Shaw was moving away from George Karl‘s up-tempo, dribble-drive offense to a more traditional, low-post system. McGee spent much of the offseason working on his game, seemingly determined to bury, on the court at least, his goofball reputation. Prior to the start of training camp he told NBA.com: “It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

It didn’t take Shaw long to apply the brakes, trusting McGee to even fewer minutes than Karl. In five starts, McGee averaged 7.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg in 15.8 mpg. He shot 43.6 percent. Denver, 3-4 after starting 1-4, traded Kosta Koufos to Memphis anticipating McGee’s rise. Recovering from the stress fracture only complicates McGee’s path to improvement. He’s in the second year of a $44 million contract, which so far looks like a very expensive mistake by the Nuggets.


VIDEO: JaVale McGee finishes off the alley-oop from Randy Foye

3. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

Evans’ fresh start away from Sacramento dysfunction was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the fifth-year combo guard. The Pelicans hyped the sixth-man role behind Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and it made sense. Evans can score and going against other second units would seem a great idea. An ankle injury slowed him early into the preseason and it’s been slow-going ever since. Evans is averaging a career-low 9.0 ppg and is logging a career-low 24.0 mpg. His shooting has been abysmal, 36.2 percent overall and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. Evans has never truly been a high-volume 3-point shooter and he’s never shot it with considerable accuracy, but really, he could probably make 12.5 percent blindfolded.

This has to concern the Pelicans’ front office if trading Gordon, who always seems to be on the block, is still a consideration later this season. Even Evans’ free-throw percentage is suffering. A 76.4-percent shooter from the stripe over his career, he’s only at 66.7 percent. The team’s overall optimism that sprouted from a successful preseason has been shrouded by a 3-6 start, including Wednesday’s demoralizing loss at previously winless Utah.


VIDEO: Tyreke Evans on the Pelicans’ deep roster

4. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

This is Williams’ second season as the maxed-out point guard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban claims he’s happy to have lost out on two summers ago. Since Williams signed his five-year, $98-million contract to stay with the Nets, he has not produced like a max player, with either injuries or coaching fit being the culprit. Williams is averaging 11.1 ppg — lowest by a long shot since his rookie season) and 7.4 apg. He’s the quarterback of  a team built for instant contention with All-Star (Joe Johnson) and Hall of Fame (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) talent, albeit aging talent outside of center Brook Lopez, yet another All-Star. Williams was again hobbled by an ankle issue during the preseason and he still might be gimpy. Meshing won’t happen overnight, but the level at which the Nets, 2-5, have played (i.e. losing by 21 at Sacramento on Wednesday) should be deeply concerning to Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who will shell out close to $190 million in payroll and luxury tax this season.

If anybody knows how to get Williams going it should be his rookie coach and No. 1 golfing buddy Jason Kidd. Kidd has to figure out how to get Williams in his comfort zone, to allow him to create and use his size to his advantage, while also getting the rest of this cast involved. Maybe then Williams will exude the confident, follow-me persona of a leader that just isn’t there.


VIDEO: Nets.com tags along on a workout with Deron Williams

5. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

Starting from scratch with playoff-hopeful Toronto, Gay still can’t shake the inefficiency thing. Yes, he’s averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, which look great. But with Gay, as the stat geeks remind, you have to look deeper to see that he’s averaging those 19.7 ppg on 19.8 field-goal attempts. He’s connecting at just a 36.5-percent rate. He is shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a mark bolstered by going 7-for-14 in the last two games, including 4-for-6 Wednesday night to get the Raptors to 4-5 at the expense of his former team, the struggling Memphis Grizzlies. But since he shoots mostly mid-range jumpers, the overall percentage is stark. In an overtime loss at Houston, Gay reached rare inefficient air when he finished with 29 points on 37 shot attempts — 8-for-29 inside the arc; 3-for-8 behind it.

During the offseason Gay had eye surgery to correct a pretty serious vision problem, and, realizing he had to get his shooting percentages up, went to work with his personal trainer for hours each day at his old high school gym in Baltimore. As he put it to NBA.com: “Honestly, I had two bad years of shooting the ball and this last year was really bad, so I just had to go back to the basics. It wasn’t as much my eye sight as it was my form.” Unfortunately for Gay, so far his shooting percentage has only worsened.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay with the assist of the night against the Grizzlies

Early Numbers Show Problems With Lineup Combinations

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.

It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.

Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.

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

How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?

Minutes: 141
Pace: 91.3
OffRtg: 101.3
DefRtg: 116.9
NetRtg: -15.7
+/-: minus-34

No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.

They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.

The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.

There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.

After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.

Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Asik-Howard combination

Minutes: 93
Pace: 93.6
OffRtg: 87.3
DefRtg: 103.1
NetRtg: -15.8
+/-: minus-35

Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Rockets efficiency

On floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Asik + Howard 93 93.6 87.3 103.1 -15.8 -35
Only Asik 88 105.3 102.5 92.0 +10.5 +19
Only Howard 196 100.9 110.8 98.3 +12.5 +39
One of the two 284 102.3 108.1 96.3 +11.8 +58

With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.

20131102_hou_side_pnr

If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.

Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).

The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”

Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.

Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together

Minutes: 133
Pace: 94.8
OffRtg: 97.6
DefRtg: 118.0
NetRtg: -20.4
+/-: minus-52

Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.

You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.

Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.

The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.

Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.

That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.

Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon

Minutes: 51
Pace: 98.4
OffRtg: 99.0
DefRtg: 105.8
NetRtg: -6.8
+/-: plus-1

It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.

Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.

Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.

Two-point-guard combinations

Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…

On-court efficiency, two-PG combos

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
CHI Hinrich & Rose 6 48 108.8 81.0 110.5 -29.5 -37
CLE Irving & Jack 8 101 94.3 86.2 91.3 -5.1 -8
DEN Lawson & Miller 6 70 101.3 97.5 96.0 +1.5 +3
DEN Lawson & Robinson 4 42 103.3 102.3 110.3 -7.9 -3
DEN Miller & Robinson 6 66 95.3 83.3 95.2 -11.9 -14
HOU Beverley & Lin 5 61 104.4 107.6 90.2 +17.5 +14
MEM Bayless & Conley 5 39 100.4 118.7 95.8 +22.9 +18
NYK Felton & Prigioni 5 74 93.8 91.7 89.9 +1.9 -4
OKC Jackson & Westbrook 4 22 106.6 133.2 92.4 +40.8 +19
ORL Nelson & Oladipo 8 81 102.5 106.9 88.5 +18.4 +21
PHX Bledsoe & Dragic 4 70 94.8 110.2 101.1 +9.1 +11
POR Lillard & Williams 7 105 96.6 111.6 111.4 +0.2 +11
SAC Thomas & Vasquez 5 44 94.8 101.6 92.2 +9.4 0

Are Jazz Primed For A Rare Stop In Western Conference’s Cellar?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The last time the Jazz finished last in the Western Conference was 1979-80, their first season in Salt Lake after the team packed up and left New Orleans. There’s been only a few close calls over the decades, most recently a 26-win, second-to-last finish in 2004-05.

But not dead last.

At 24-58, Utah finished the ’79-’80 campaign tied with Golden State at the bottom of the 11-team West and pulled up the rear in a Midwest Division that went Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Chicago. The Jazz had a 32-year-old “Pistol” Pete Maravich, whose knees were so shot that he played in just 17 games and retired, and a 23-year-old Bernard King, who played in just 19 games and sought help for a drinking problem.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, then 23, averaged 28.0 ppg and found a home in the NBA. Shooting guards Ron Boone (12.8 ppg) and Terry Furlow (16.0 ppg) provided the majority of the backcourt scoring. Duck Williams chipped in 6.6 ppg off the bench, ABA vet Mack Calvin averaged 6.4 ppg in 48 games and 24-year-old journeyman Brad Davis signed late and played 13 games before spending the next 12 seasons in Dallas, who retired his No. 15 jersey.

As this mostly unrecognizable and already banged-up 2013-14 team tumbles toward the starting gate, they could use any of those old guards — forget John Stockton — for a little backcourt help. With non-playoff teams like Minnesota, Portland, New Orleans and Dallas looking improved, and new coaches and philosophies in Phoenix (led by ex-Jazz assistant and legend Jeff Hornacek) and Sacramento, could re-booting Utah be in jeopardy of its first last-place finish in three-plus decades?

That might not be all that bad — or even, wink, wink, the plan — considering the anticipated bumper crop of the 2014 Draft. Even money is on the Jazz equaling the 24 wins of ’79-80 when Tom Nissalke‘s club averaged 102.2 ppg to also finish dead last in scoring in a much different 22-team NBA. Through five preseason games, Utah is averaging 87.0 ppg and 18.8 apg, both of which would have ranked last last season.

The Jazz certainly didn’t intend to lose top Draft pick and starting point guard Trey Burke to a busted right index finger in the preseason. He was averaging 7.0 ppg (on dreadful shooting) and 4.0 apg before undergoing surgery to repair the bone. He’ll miss 8-12 weeks, delaying his development. Plus, this team is not one built to endure injuries anywhere.

In the interim, the always game, if not so venerable, John Lucas III appears to be the Jazz’s starting point guard. The next game he starts will be his third entering a sixth season bouncing in and out of the league since 2005. He’ll pair in the backcourt with either Alec Burks or Gordon Hayward, who whether starting at shooting guard or small forward (Richard Jefferson has started three preseason games here), will have to be this team’s Dantley.

Backcourt depth isn’t inspiring. Brandon Rush has yet to play as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL. Undrafted rookie combo guard Ian Clark has managed just 11.8 mpg in four preseason games. Lester Hudson and Scott Machado are scrapping for minutes.

After Burke’s broken finger there were rumblings of interest in bringing back free agent Jamaal Tinsley. Considering the Jazz aren’t exactly worried about losing ground in November — this season’s writing is on the wall — they might be more inclined simply to ride out Burke’s injury.

Just don’t expect smooth sailing. The Jazz get something of a break in their first six games, likely missing Russell Westbrook in their Oct. 30 opener against Oklahoma City, Rajon Rondo at Boston on Nov. 6 and perhaps Deron Williams the night before in Brooklyn. In the other three games they’ll face Phoenix’s new tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on Nov. 1, Houston’s James Harden and Jeremy Lin on Nov. 2 and Chicago’s Derrick Rose on Nov. 8. Then comes this six-pack of opposing point guards: Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker, Steph Curry in a home-and-home series and Holiday again.

Ever-knowledgeable Jazz fans have shown a level of understanding as the franchise shifts directions and amasses Draft picks. Now comes the hard part — showing patience. They stand to witness more losses this season than since well before coach Jerry Sloan walked through that door.

Nerlens Noel Offers Hope To Down 76ers

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Imagine all those staunch Sixers fans falling for a skinny Boston kid raised four miles from the enemy Celtics’ home court.

Get ready, Philly, here comes Nerlens Noel.

Maybe a love affair rising from the failed ashes of Andrew Bynum isn’t so far-fetched. After all, Noel’s outdated box-top hair-do is inspired by his fave entertainer, Philadelphia’s own Will Smith from his days as the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”.

“Everything’s for a reason,” the 76ers rookie center told NBA.com last week, referring to the ACL tear in his left knee that derailed his near-certain path to becoming the No. 1 pick.

“I definitely feel the injury is a blessing in disguise, and I feel that Philly is perfect as to my style, and definitely my playing style. I’m just always playing hard, working for everything and, of course, the city of Philadelphia itself having the die-hard fans they do and just being a blue-collar city.”

When the home fans will get their first look at the one-year Kentucky wonder remains uncertain.

Noel’s relentless recovery is ongoing. The devastating injury occurred on Feb. 12 in just his 24th collegiate game, the result of a hustle play the Wildcats’ center didn’t have to attack. He could have surrendered the breakaway layup against against rival Florida. He sprinted, closed the gap, leaped and swatted the ball away from behind. His 106th block had him on pace to threaten 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis‘ school-record from the season before. Noel crashed to the floor and didn’t get up.

More than four months later at the NBA Draft, Noel waited. He slid from No. 1 to No. 6.

“I don’t regret making that play,” Noel said. “I definitely wanted to put my team in the best position to win and I’m not mad at myself for making that play. That’s just who I am.”

Since undergoing surgery on March 12, and up until just last week, the 19-year-old Noel slept, ate and rehabbed in Birmingham, Ala., punching work-week-like hours to rebuild his knee under the supervision of renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews and esteemed physical therapist Kevin Wilk. He’s finally seeing evidence of all that hard work.

“I feel great. I’m really starting to feel like my old self, being able to have my explosiveness. But I’m definitely being careful with it,” Noel said. “From Day 1, every time I was in rehab, the last few reps, I would just think how bad I want to get on the court because of how much I want to prove to myself that I can get back and be the player I want to be.”

NBA training camps open in about two weeks, but it will still take time before Noel can get down to serious preparations with Philly. He began with baby steps back on the court about two months ago, but contact team drills will be off limits, and a debut date is not yet being discussed, at least not publicly. He has always hoped to play by Christmas.

“I want to be 100 percent confident not only physically, but mentally coming back from it,” Noel said.

He’s only now getting to know the city, having moved to Philadelphia about 10 days ago. He dropped off some boxes there, then he traveled to Lexington to attend a Wildcats alumni game and then to Los Angeles for a Reebok photo shoot, where he revealed the company will encourage his retro “Fresh Prince” fashion sense. Moving to Philly earlier in the summer wasn’t really an option. He and the Sixers’ No. 11 pick, Michael Carter-Williams, remain the only first-round picks yet to sign their rookie contracts.

Salaries for first-round picks are slotted, so there’s no contract dispute here. The bottomed-out, 76ers, now under the guidance of general manager Sam Hinkie, are conserving cap space as they slowly fill out the roster. Then they’ll ink their draft picks. Unsigned players are prohibited from using team facilities and working with training and coaching staffs.

“It’s not too disappointing. I’m definitely working as much as I can and staying focused. That will come,” Noel said. “They’re making strategic moves right now so I definitely understand, but that’s not stopping me from rehabbing and getting back to where I want to be.”

Hinkie has a vision of where that one day will be. He traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans to make Noel the centerpiece of his rebuild. Listed at 6-foot-10 at Kentucky, Noel measured 6-foot-11 3/4 with shoes at the Draft Combine in May. His several-inches-high flat-top reminds of the classic line uttered by the late Chick Hearn in the movie “Fletch:” He’s actually 6-5, with the afro 6-9.” Noel might actually top 7-foot.

His hair even has its own Twitter account (@NoelsFlatTop). Among its more than 2,700 followers is Noel, who doesn’t know who started the account when he was a top recruit.

Noel’s height, with or without the flat-top, is of lesser concern than filling out his long slender frame that’s equipped with a 7-foot-4 wing span. Noel weighed 216 pounds as a freshman and dropped to 206 post-surgery, a weight that could never survive in the NBA trenches. He’s up to 221 and wants to get close to 230 by the time he plays in an NBA game.

As he gets older, he knows he’ll have to continually get stronger to bang with the East’s big boys such as the Pacers’ 7-foot-2, 280-pound center Roy Hibbbert. Noel said he’s already enlisted Hibbert, who has his own array of old-school post moves, to aid his low-post development. That is an aspect of Noel’s game that barely exists at the moment, and some question if it ever will.

Noel averaged 10.5 ppg at Kentucky mostly off dunks, but he said he’s capable of becoming a steady offensive weapon in the NBA.

“Especially with my work ethic and my focus, I’ll be able to do that,” Noel said. “The things he teaches me, mix it with my mobility, add a little flavor to it, I can develop an offensive game.”

First things first, and that’s regaining full strength in his knee. But don’t worry Philly, the Boston kid is on his way.