Posts Tagged ‘Kawhi Leonard’

Tested Thunder Get The Best Of Spurs


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook scores 31 points and the Thunder beat the Spurs

SAN ANTONIO — It’s quite easy to say the home team played without Kawhi Leonard following a dental procedure.

And, well, then they got drilled.

For the Spurs it was like a root canal having the Thunder outshoot them, out-rebound them, outplay them at both ends of the floor.

But no more painful than what OKC went through last spring when Russell Westbrook missed virtually the entire playoffs.

After all, if he brushes after meals and remembers to floss with regularity, Leonard’s pearly white smile and defensive teeth will be back on display for the rest of the season.

When Westbrook’s knee gave out in the second game of the first round against Houston, there was no amount of novocaine or laughing gas that was going to make the Thunder feel better.

So there was a touch of karma or irony or something that on the same night Patrick Beverley broke his hand and was lost to the Rockets, Westbrook was having his best game ever at the AT&T Center and reminding everyone what these so-called measuring stick games in December mean.

Absolutely nothing.

Remember, Westbrook should have returned to San Antonio for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals last June, if all had gone according to the plan. And you know what the fates say about plans.

A year ago, the Spurs were the ones dinged up in almost every regular season meeting with the Thunder. An ailing Manu Ginobili missed the first two encounters. Leonard sat out the second with tendinitis in his quadriceps. Tony Parker missed the third game. Ginobili sat out the fourth on the same night that Parker went down again.

All the while the Thunder were as dependable as an atomic clock with their entire starting lineup intact and playing in no fewer than 78 games through the long regular-season grind, including all 82 by the ironman Westbrook, who at that point had never missed a game in his five-year NBA career.

But then Westbrook limped off after his run-in with Beverley and everything changed for everybody.

OKC was suddenly tested and pushed by Houston and knocked out by Memphis. The door swung open for a San Antonio team that came within those fateful, fitful 28 seconds of claiming a fifth championship.

“We never thought about it,” said Kevin Durant. “It’s out the window. We can’t do nothing it. We can’t look at the past anymore. No matter what we’ve done, we’ve just gotta look forward.

“We haven’t backed down. We’re excited that he’s playing at full strength and we aren’t even going to think about that. Because that was a tough time for us, especially for him not playing a game that he loves.

“We needed to go through that as far our growth and it helped us out a lot. It helped Reggie (Jackson). It helped me out, Serge (Ibaka), everybody. So now we’re just trying to look forward.”

Still you had to wonder if there wasn’t just a peek back at what could have been from the way Westbrook strode onto the court and practically claimed it for his own on Saturday night. It was probably his best game ever against the Spurs. Against a team that had limited him to 32 percent career shooting, he scored 31 points on 13-for-22 from the field, only the fourth time in 26 meetings that he made at least half his shots.

When the Spurs were making a final push late in the fourth quarter and had OKC’s lead down to seven points, Ibaka missed a 3-pointer out of the left corner. Westbrook then shot up out of the crowd to push the rebound out to the top. The Thunder ran through another set that ended with Ibaka making his second-chance 3. The next time down the floor, Westbrook buried a jumper from the key and the Spurs and then pounded on his chest.

It’s a game that won’t mean anything if the Spurs and Thunder get back to that date in the conference finals next spring. Will it matter that their defensive stopper Leonard missed it to have work done on his teeth? That it was Westbrook that made the rest of the Spurs feel like they were the ones in the chair?

So much of this early NBA season has been about the steadiness of the Pacers and their resolute commitment to running down the two-time defending champion Heat or the stunning, impressive start by the Trail Blazers.

You might not blame the Thunder for jerking a thumb toward that league-best 22-4 record and wondering: What about us?
What if Beverley hadn’t happened to the Thunder? What if Westbrook hadn’t limped off toward knee surgery?

“It don’t really matter to me, man,” he said. “I believe we’re the best team in the league, regardless of who says this or who says that. You can predict anything, but you got to go out and play the game.”

And you’ve got to be able to go out and play when it matters. All the rest is just a trip to the dentist’s office.

Curry Makes Biggest Impact Offensively


VIDEO: Stephen Curry lights up the Mavs and hits the game-winner

The List

Biggest on-off-court differential, OffRtg

On floor Off floor
Player Team MIN OffRtg MIN OffRtg Diff.
Stephen Curry GSW 744 112.0 370 86.5 25.5
Kevin Love MIN 748 109.5 313 86.0 23.5
John Wall WAS 755 104.6 230 83.9 20.6
Paul George IND 809 106.2 252 89.1 17.0
Klay Thompson GSW 872 107.1 242 91.8 15.3
Marcin Gortat WAS 691 104.3 294 89.4 14.9
Luol Deng CHI 656 101.3 324 86.6 14.7
Corey Brewer MIN 748 107.0 313 92.5 14.6
David Lee GSW 774 108.1 340 94.0 14.2
Ricky Rubio MIN 716 107.3 345 93.3 14.0

Minimum 300 minutes on the floor
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions

The Context

Last season, the leader in this category was Damian Lillard. The 2012-13 Blazers scored 11.5 more points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor than they did with him on the bench. Right now, Curry’s differential is more than twice that.

With Curry on the floor, the Warriors have scored 2.5 more points per 100 possessions than the best offense in the league (Portland). With Curry on the bench, they’ve scored 7.2 fewer than the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee).

Curry is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league and a unique challenge to defend, because he’s one of the league’s two or three best shooters, but also has the ball in his hands to start most possessions. He leads the league with 15.8 pull-up jumpers per game, including 5.1 from 3-point range.

Curry not only gets buckets himself, but the threat of him pulling up clearly creates openings for his fellow perimeter players. Klay Thompson has shot 7.4 percent better from the field and 9.9 percent better from 3-point range with Curry on the floor, while Andre Iguodala has shot 31.1 percent better from the field and 43.7 percent better from beyond the arc.

The Warriors have not only shot better with Curry on the floor, but they’ve turned the ball over 6.1 fewer times per 100 possessions. Both Nemanja Nedovic and Kent Bazemore have turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions.

Iguodala’s absence is certainly a factor in the offensive drop-off when Curry steps off the floor. Iguodala, who is the team’s back-up point guard in addition to being the starting small forward, and who also has a tolerable turnover rate, has missed the last 10 games with a hamstring injury.

But before Iguodala’s injury, the Warriors were still pretty bad offensively with Curry off the floor and Iguodala on, scoring only 93.7 points per 100 possessions over 195 minutes. They were strong defensively, however, and that’s where Iguodala’s absence has been felt most. Golden State has allowed 104.1 points per 100 possessions over the last 10 games after allowing just 96.5 over their first 13.

Even when Iguodala returns, backcourt depth will be an issue. Mark Jackson hasn’t been able to trust Nedovic and Bazemore, who have played a total of 114 minutes over the 10 games that Iguodala has missed. Curry, meanwhile, has played 40-plus in eight of the 10. Both Curry (11th) and Thompson (seventh) now rank in the top 11 in minutes per game. They’re young, but that’s a heavy burden to shoulder.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Golden State has been included among the teams interested in trading for Kyle Lowry. What they’d have to offer the Raptors is the issue. They don’t have much of value beyond their top six players.

The Warriors have played a tough schedule, with 14 of their 23 games on the road and 19 of the against the Western Conference. But their lack of depth has become a real concern. Nobody can come close to replicating what Curry gives them when he’s on the floor, but they need somebody who can at least keep their offense from falling completely off the map.

The Video

Here are Curry’s nine 3-pointers against the Clippers on Oct. 31, here are his 15 assists in Memphis from Saturday, and here’s his game-winner against the Mavs on Wednesday.

The bottom of the list

The Pacers have scored 14.7 more points per 100 possessions with Ian Mahinmi on the bench (106.5) than they have with him on the floor (91.8). Yeah, there’s still a big drop-off when Frank Vogel goes to his bench, but the reserves do their jobs defensively, Luis Scola has given them more offense than Tyler Hansbrough did, and Roy Hibbert‘s minutes are up from 28.7 per game last season to 30.7 this season.

Just ahead of Mahinmi is the Lakers’ Steve Blake at -14.6, and I wrote last week how L.A.’s bench has been so much better than their starters. Ahead of Blake are the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (-13.8), Vitor Faverani (-13.4) and the Pacers’ Orlando Johnson (-12.7).

Trivia question

What player has scored the most points without a single one coming from outside the paint? Hint: He’s a Western Conference big man who was once a top 10 draft pick by an Eastern Conference team.

More on-off-court notes

  • The presence of three Warriors in the top 10 further illustrates their lack of depth. Also in the top 10 are two Wizards, and when you take defense into account, John Wall has the largest on-off-court NetRtg differential. Washington has outscored its opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and has been outscored by 24.1 with him on the bench. That Eric Maynor addition hasn’t worked out too well.
  • It’s also interesting to see Luol Deng on the list. We understand how important Deng is to the Bulls’ defense, but it’s now clear that, without Derrick Rose, they desperately need Deng offensively. With him out over the last three games, Chicago has scored a brutal 79.8 points per 100 possessions against three bottom 10 defensive teams (Detroit, Milwaukee and New York). And no, D.J. Augustin isn’t going to help much.
  • At the top of the list defensively? Nate Robinson. The Nuggets have allowed 15.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Robinson on the floor than they have with him on the bench. Seems crazy, but the Nuggets have been just awful defensively in the first six minutes of games, allowing 121.2 per 100 possessions, more than 20 over the league average of 100.9 during that time. That has forced them to play catch-up when their reserves enter. Nate for DPOY!

Trivia answer

Andrew Bogut, who has 164 points, all from the paint (150) or from the free throw line (14).

Spurs Bury Past By Playing For Today


VIDEO: Charles Barkley gives credit to Spurs before joking on city of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — It’s still there, rattling around inside their heads like a ghost in the attic.

Whether you’re Danny Green willfully using the harsh memory as a painful everyday fuel or you’re Manu Ginobili trying hard to push it back into the shadows, it’s as much a part of what they take onto the court as their sneakers and jerseys.

Those 28 seconds at the end of Game 6 in the NBA Finals when the Spurs let a five-point lead over the Heat and a fifth franchise championship slip through their hands is now who they are and, maybe because of that, what they can be. Again.

They are the same old Spurs for whom the camouflage uniforms they wore against the Wizards were redundant, since nobody ever seems to notice them until they get to the end of yet another 50-win season. It’s a league record 14 in a row and counting.

These Spurs have won six straight, running their record up to 8-1, which trails only the unbeaten Pacers in a year after when it might seem natural to have a hangover.

“I’m sure it crosses everybody’s mind once in a while,” Green said. “I’m sure it gets brought up in a lot of conversations, not just with (media), but with mutual friends, family.

“This is a new year, a new season. You try to let that go, but I think it’s a good motivational tool that could keep us at it. February, March, sure. Let it keep pushing us.”

The veteran Ginobili takes the opposite approach.

“If somebody asks me, you can’t force not to remember it,” he said. “But if not, I’m just focused on … the next game and my health and the next game and trying to get better. I really don’t think about what happened last year.

“It’s something that we’re going to have in the back of our heads forever. It’s not that it’s going to leave. I still remember the semifinals I lost in 1997 with the Under-22 team (in Argentina) because it was a game like that. So it is going to stay there forever. You’re going to bring it when you need to, not on an everyday basis because it doesn’t help.”

What helps is simply getting back to the basics, getting back to what the Spurs do best, which is to play the game to their own selflessly exacting standard that comes together like a symphony.

“San Antonio runs offense perfectly,” said Wizards center Marcin Gortat. “It was like listening to Mozart. It’s just ridiculous how they play.”

What would seem insanely impossible anywhere else is that the Spurs have sprinted out of the starting gate while other would-be contenders — Grizzlies, Nets, Clippers, Rockets — stumble, all with perennial All-Star Tim Duncan struggling to find his shot.

When Duncan went 1-for-12 against the Wiz, it was the third time this season that he scored a single field goal. He is shooting 32 of 83 (.386) to open his 17th NBA season and matched his single-game career low with two points. Nevertheless, the Spurs have trailed for a total of only 11 seconds in their last four wins over Golden State, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

It has been about Tony Parker setting the pace with his scoring, passing and constantly attacking style on offense, about Green getting back his shooting stroke following a bumpy start, Kawhi Leonard continuing to bloom and Ginobili coming back healthy and confident to begin the season. The Spurs are also getting production up and down the lineup from Tiago Splitter to Marco Belinelli to Boris Diaw.

While everyone on the outside keeps looking at the calendar and the clock and thinking that the time running out on the Spurs Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili would make them lost in the fog of what got away last June, the point that’s missed is the sense of urgency they take into each season, each game, every possession at both ends of the court.

The Spurs simply keep playing the game according to the Xs and Os you would expect to see drawn up in a coach’s textbook, based on an organizational style and philosophy that is plainly demanding and with an inherent sense of responsibility to the whole.

“We don’t talk about it as a group,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “We did that the beginning of the year like we do every year. We start with the end of the season before, whoever knocked us out of the playoffs. We go through that film … We went over it in every single detail. We do it excruciatingly, honestly … We already did it, so there’s no sense doing it again.

“But you never forget that. I still remember 0.4 (when Derek Fisher’s 18-foot fadeaway for the Lakers beat San Antonio in Game 5 of the 2004 West semifinals). It goes through once every month or something.

“The Miami thing goes through my head every day. Pretty soon it will be every two days and then it will be every week and every month. That’s the way it is. Everybody remembers things good and bad. It’s not something to be dwelled on. Like I told the team, it’s just another episode in your life, one of the easier ones that you’ll face. When you think about all the things we have to face — family-wise and friends-wise and all that stuff. The things that go on in our lives, basketball, that’s a joke compared to the real stuff.”

Which is how the Spurs inch away from the past while keeping it within everything they do today.

One Team, One Stat: New Lineup Helped Spurs Re-establish Defensive Identity

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 San Antonio Spurs, who were seconds away from a fifth championship.

The basics
SAS Rank
W-L 58-24 3
Pace 96.4 6
OffRtg 105.9 7
DefRtg 99.2 3
NetRtg +6.8 3

The stat

87.7 - Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Spurs’ starting lineup – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter – in 364 minutes together last season.

The context

That mark was the league’s best among 58 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together and was over 15 points per 100 possessions better than the league average.

After eight years of defensive regression and two straight seasons of being ranked 11th on that end of the floor, the Spurs improved to third in defensive efficiency last season. And as beautiful as their offense has been over the last few years, it was the defensive improvement that got them back to The Finals.

San Antonio ranked sixth defensively on Dec. 23, when Gregg Popovich went to this starting lineup permanently (or at least, in games in which guys weren’t injured or resting). So they already were improved, and they basically allowed the same number of points per 100 possessions after that point (99.1) as they did before it (99.3).

But having a lineup that consistently holds opponents under 90 points per 100 possessions is a great way to start games. The new Spurs starters did just about everything well defensively.

Spurs starters defensive comparison

Lineups/league DefRtg Opp2PT% Opp3PT% DREB% OppTOV% OppFTA/FGA
New starters 87.7 42.6% 32.8% 80.9% 13.8% .148
All Spurs lineups 99.2 46.6% 35.3% 74.9% 15.3% .235
League avg. 103.1 48.3% 35.9% 73.5% 15.3% .270

OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions

The lineup didn’t force a lot of turnovers, but it defended shots at a rate that would have led the league, rebounded at a rate that would have led the league (by far), and kept opponents off the free throw line at a rate that would have led the league (by far).

Among 67 players 6-10 and taller who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season, Duncan (2.03) averaged the fourth fewest fouls per 36 minutes. Splitter (2.90) was also below that group’s average of 3.38. Roy Hibbert, aka “Mr. Verticality,” averaged 4.43.

The playoffs brought new challenges, however. After Splitter sprained his ankle in the first round, he returned for Game 2 of the conference semifinals and that Spurs lineup struggled to defend the hot-shooting, small-ball Warriors.

But San Antonio survived that series and the lineup went on to allow the Grizzlies and Heat to score a paltry 78.0 points per 100 possessions over the next eight games. Here are some defensive possessions from those two series…


Spurs playoff efficiency with Parker, Green, Leonard,
Duncan and Splitter on the floor

Opponent GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
L.A. Lakers 3 40 99.8 95.9 +3.9 +5
Golden State 4 43 96.5 110.3 -13.8 -10
Memphis 4 51 98.6 80.8 +17.8 +16
Miami 4 33 93.1 73.9 +19.3 +12
Total 15 167 97.3 90.9 +6.4 +23

The defense wasn’t enough to convince Popovich to keep the band together though. He inserted Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup for Game 5 of The Finals, a moved that helped Ginobili play his best game of the postseason and helped the Spurs get to within one win of their fifth championship. Splitter played just 23 minutes over the final three games, almost entirely as Duncan’s back-up.

Playoff series are small sample sizes and certain matchups can take what was a great lineup in the regular season and render it useless. And though that lineup defended well all year, it did struggle offensively in the postseason. The Spurs’ offense was much more efficient with an additional shooter on the floor.

But this lineup will be back on the floor to start this season. While the big three is a year older, Green (26), Leonard (22), and Splitter (28) have proven that they can pick up some of the slack. More importantly, the Spurs have reestablished themselves as a top-five defense.

If they stay relatively healthy this season, the best defensive lineup in the league could be on the floor for a lot more than 386 minutes. And that can make up for any offensive slippage.

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

One Team, One Stat: Stay In The Corner, Jeff Green

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 Boston Celtics, who are starting over without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

The basics
BOS Rank
W-L 41-40 16
Pace 94.0 17
OffRtg 101.1 20
DefRtg 100.4 6
NetRtg +0.7 14

The stat

17.9 percent - Difference between Jeff Green’s 3-point percentage from the corners (45.0 percent) and from above the break (27.1 percent) over the last three seasons.

The context

That’s the biggest difference among 134 players who attempted at least 100 threes from both the corners and above the break over the last three years. (The league-wide difference is 4.0 percent.)

In his two full seasons with the Celtics, a Green corner three has been worth 1.35 points per attempt and a Green above-the-break three has been worth 0.81. That’s the difference between a great shot and a bad one.

Biggest difference, corner 3P% vs. above-the-break 3P%

Corner 3 Above the Break 3
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Jeff Green 76 169 45.0% 58 214 27.1% 17.9%
Kawhi Leonard 75 170 44.1% 31 113 27.4% 16.7%
Chandler Parsons 90 191 47.1% 122 381 32.0% 15.1%
*Shawne Williams 77 191 40.3% 28 105 26.7% 13.6%
Corey Brewer 112 329 34.0% 42 200 21.0% 13.0%
Arron Afflalo 148 334 44.3% 117 374 31.3% 13.0%
**Martell Webster 114 236 48.3% 117 325 36.0% 12.3%
Darren Collison 46 105 43.8% 77 242 31.8% 12.0%
***Shannon Brown 52 120 43.3% 128 407 31.4% 11.9%
Rashard Lewis 89 218 40.8% 65 224 29.0% 11.8%

* Williams’ discrepancy was the source of this great line from my man Howard Beck (now with Bleacher Report: “And Williams is reliable only from the corners — meaning even his one dimension is one-dimensional.”)
** Led by Webster, the Wizards are the Jeff Green of 3-point shooting teams.
*** Geez, Shannon Brown. Take a look at your shot chart before you go and take more than three times as many threes from above the break again.

Three seasons ago, Green took 80 more above-the-break threes than corner threes. But last season, upon returning from heart surgery, he took more corner threes.

A closer look reveals that the difference may have been the team Green has played for. Upon being traded from the Thunder to the Celtics in February of 2011, Green found himself in the corner a lot more.

Jeff Green 3-point shooting

Corner 3 Above the Break 3
Season Team FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
2007-08 SEA 16 45 35.6% 5 30 16.7%
2008-09 OKC 23 59 39.0% 73 187 39.0%
2009-10 OKC 41 118 34.7% 63 192 32.8%
2010-11 OKC 20 46 43.5% 36 135 26.7%
2010-11 BOS 8 18 44.4% 0 9 .0%
2012-13 BOS 48 105 45.7% 22 70 31.4%
SEA/OKC Total 100 268 37.3% 177 544 32.5%
BOS Total 56 123 45.5% 22 79 27.8%

That’s a product of the two teams’ offenses. In four full seasons under Scott Brooks, only 22 percent of the Thunder’s 3-point attempts have come from the corners. In the same time, 29 percent of the Celtics threes have come from the corners. And that number was up to 34 percent over the last two seasons.

Here are Green’s seven 3-point attempts from that March 18 game in which he almost single-handedly ended the Heat’s winning streak at 22 games. He was 4-for-4 from the corners and 1-for-3 from above the break…


Brad Stevens brings a new offense to Boston, Rajon Rondo‘s absence means that Green will have the ball in his hands more, and the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett mean that he’ll be asked to carry more of the offensive load. All that could certainly mean less attempts from the corner.

Through five preseason games, Green is 5-for-10 on corner threes and 0-for-11 from above the break. So the saga continues…

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

D’Antoni Drinking From Kobe’s Full Cup

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HANG TIME, Texas – It turns out Kobe Bryant isn’t the only one thinking the experts will be eating crow when he and his teammates report for duty in the playoffs next spring.

While he isn’t quite cackling on national TV with Jimmy Kimmel, coach Mike D’Antoni insists that the Lakers can improve on their 45-37 record from last season. At least that’s what he told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “I think we can be better because I don’t think we reached our potential last year. Our lack of defense came mostly from lack of energy from guys that didn’t feel right in their place on the team. Defense is energy, concentration and the desire to do it.

“If something is sapping that energy — distractions, injuries, not feeling good about the team — then you’re not going to put your heart and soul into it and it comes out on the defensive end. They just didn’t feel each other.”

It’s a simple recipe, really. You simply subtract a seven-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time NBA rebounding leader — including last season when he wasn’t fully fit — and the kumbaya spirit of cooperation lifts the entire boat.

Of course, D’Antoni didn’t mention Dwight Howard by name and we think that’s a good thing, since there has been far too much dredging up the pains of the past by everyone in the Laker organization from team president Jim Buss down to the valet parking attendants at the Staples Center. It is time — way past time, in fact — for the Lakers to move on and part of that has to be adopting the old Stuart Smalley from the long ago days of Saturday Night Live: “We’re good enough.”

Can the Lakers be good enough in a Western Conference where they had to go to the final night of the regular season in 2012-13 to finally secure the No. 7 spot in the playoffs and where Houston (with Howard) and Golden State (with Andre Iguodala) would clearly rank ahead of them now in the pecking order. Then there’s the matter of teams such as Minnesota, Portland and New Orleans coming up from behind. The Timberwolves are rebounding from a season fraught with injuries, while the Blazers and Pelicans have made moves to improve their talent.

The Lakers still have the biggest question mark in the league on their side of the ledger, wondering when — and really if — at age 35, Bryant can return to his Black Mamba form. Until that time, they must rely on 39-year-old Steve Nash and 33-year-old Pau Gasol  to carry the load with aging bodies that both broke down last season. D’Antoni’ said he believes that Nash and Gasol will be 100 percent healthy heading into training camp, but this is certainly a time, for their own good and that of the team, that their minutes will have to be monitored closely and likely limited. The defending Western Conference champion Spurs have been able to get away with fewer minutes from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili because young guys such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are rising through the pipeline. That’s not quite the case with the Lakers, whose offseason additions have been Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman.

D’Antoni says he’s not going into the season looking over his shoulder in terms of his job security, especially after surviving a summer of blood-letting in the NBA coaching ranks.

“I’m sure it’s out there. If you don’t win, it’s there,” he said. “If you’re coaching in Fort Wayne, it’s going to be the same thing. I think the Lakers are a special case because they’re the No. 1 team that’s on ESPN. You just do the best job you can do and go on. If you get caught up in what they’re saying, you can’t do your job.”

Then he mentioned his peers in what was a surprisingly cranky, impatient off-season.

“Look at what happened to coaches this year. Eleven get let go. And three or four of them had the best years the franchise has ever had,” D’Antoni said. “So who am I to say they’re treating me bad? What about all those other guys?”
D’Antoni never feared for his job security despite the first-round playoff flameout.

“No, because Mitch [Kupchak] and Jim Buss were really supportive and great,” he said of the team’s front-office executives. “I couldn’t ask for anything better from the staff and franchise. I don’t want to be flippant, but you also have to have an attitude of, ‘To hell with everything. Concentrate. Go forward.’ You can’t get distracted by the noise.”

Summer Dreaming: Most Improved Player

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HANG TIME, Texas — Fire up the grill. Ice down those frosty cold beers. Nothing says summer like a backyard barbecue.

Or sitting out in the hot sun daydreaming.

Sure, the NBA schedule comes out in a few days. Sure, the season openers are less than three months away. But why stop there? Let’s continue to wander all the way out to next spring when the 2013-14 season is over and get a head start on candidates for all the awards.

Today we’ll look at my handful of picks for Most Improved Player and you can chime in below.

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs Doesn’t everybody already know about the many splendored talents of the guy with Charles Barkley’s favorite name after he played a key role in the Spurs’ run to The Finals last last season? Of course, Leonard drew the toughest defensive assignment though every round of the playoffs, doing a creditable job on LeBron James. There were also nights when he had bust-out games on offense. But the feeling here is that Leonard has only scratched the surfaced of what he can do. It’s no longer a stretch to think he could live up to coach Gregg Popovich’s “face of the franchise” prediction. As the years keep piling up and the minutes keep getting restricted on Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, The Quiet One is going to get every chance to make big noise as he shoulders more of the burden. He could take the leap that last year’s winner Paul George did for the Pacers.

Harrison Barnes, Warriors Before he conked his head on the floor and eventually had to leave Game 6 of the West semifinals, Barnes was doing all that he could to force a Game 7 in the series with the Spurs. A member of the All-Rookie first team, he averaged 9.7 ppg and 4.1 rpg in just 25.4 mpg. When coach Mark Jackson went to him more and more in the playoffs, Barnes showed more and more of the things he can do. He got to the basket. He drained 3-pointers. In other words, as the games got bigger, he showed why Golden State made him the No. 7 pick in the 2012 draft. With Andre Iguodala around to run the floor and get plenty of attention from opposing defenses, the opportunity will be there for Barnes to take that big step up.

Jonas Valanciunas, RaptorsAfter being named MVP in the Las Vegas Summer League, there are lot of folks on both sides of the border who are expecting the young Raptors’ big man to take off this season, especially now that he doesn’t give up minutes to Andrea Bargnani. He’s done work building up the upper half of his slim body without seeming to have surrendered quickness. His rookie numbers of 8.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg and a 55.7 field-goal percentage in 23.9 mpg showed that there’s room for growth with increased playing time, particularly on offense for a player who makes smart decisions and doesn’t force shots. But the Raptors will have to make an effort to get him to the ball. He gets to the foul line, trailing only Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond and Barnes among last year’s rookies in free throw attempts. As long as he keeps building up his bulk and strength, he can be a solid rim protector on defense. There is every reason to believe he can be the guy that Toronto spent the No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft on and then waited for year to get him to join the NBA. If not this season, then the next.

Eric Bledsoe, Suns There were a lot of places where Bledsoe could have wound up that would seem to make more sense than Phoenix. The Suns already have Goran Dragic at the point. But rookie coach Jeff Hornacek will likely play them in tandem and Bledsoe’s got the chops to play at the ‘2’ and use his defensive prowess to get steal and create transition chances and easy buckets for the offense. He’s been champing at the bit to get out from under Chris Paul’s shadow with the Clippers and if he can rein in a tendency to get a bit wild with his shot selection, Bledsoe could put up some nice numbers for a Suns team that will be thirsting for offense.

Jeremy Lamb, Thunder He moves around the court and makes every thing look so slow and easy that half the time you want to check to make sure that those sleepy-looking eyes are really open. He didn’t see much playing time as a rookie, doing a constant shuttle between OKC and Tulsa in the NBA D-League to get game experience. He scored big and played well at the Orlando Summer League and now with the departure of Kevin Martin, the door is wide open for the No. 12 pick in the 2012 draft to come in and knock down all those wide open shots that are created by playing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If those eyes are wide awake, Lamb could see his way to some very big things on the championship contender.

PREVIOUSLY: Sixth Man of Year | Defensive Player of YearRookie Of Year

Colangelo Ready To Introduce New Blood Into USA Basketball Program

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY –
As Summer League wraps up, it’s time to turn our attention to USA Basketball.

The Men’s Senior National Team won’t be playing in any tournaments this summer. They qualified for next summer’s World Cup by winning last summer’s Olympics, so they’re not sending a team to the FIBA Americas tournament that begins Aug. 30 in Caracas, Venezuela.

But managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski aren’t taking the summer off. Instead, they’re bringing 29 young players to Las Vegas for a mini-camp that begins Monday and concludes with an intra-squad scrimmage on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

USA Basketball 2013 mini-camp roster
Player Team Pos Age YRS
Ryan Anderson NOP PF 25 5
Harrison Barnes GSW SF 21 1
Bradley Beal WAS SG 20 1
Mike Conley MEM PG 25 6
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 22 3
Anthony Davis NOP PF 20 1
DeMar DeRozan TOR SG 23 4
Andre Drummond DET C 19 1
Kenneth Faried DEN PF 23 2
Derrick Favors UTA PF 22 3
Paul George IND SF 23 3
Gordon Hayward UTA SG 23 3
George Hill IND PG 27 5
Jrue Holiday NOP PG 23 4
Kyrie Irving CLE PG 21 2
DeAndre Jordan LAC C 25 5
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist CHA SF 19 1
Ty Lawson DEN PG 25 4
Damian Lillard POR PG 23 1
Doug McDermott Crei. PF 21 -
Greg Monroe DET PF 23 3
Chandler Parsons HOU SF 24 2
Larry Sanders MIL C 24 3
Marcus Smart Ok. St. PG 19 -
Klay Thompson GSW SG 23 2
Dion Waiters CLE SG 21 1
Kemba Walker CHA PG 23 2
John Wall WAS PG 22 3
Tyler Zeller CLE C 23 1

It’s an opportunity for the players to make a positive impression on the USA Basketball staff, and for the staff to develop thoughts about next summer’s roster, which could include players from last year’s Olympic Team.

To preview the mini-camp, NBA.com spoke with Colangelo, who first broke the news that the Bulls’ Taj Gibson was a late scratch with a sprained ankle. That leaves 29 healthy players – 27 NBA vets and two college players – for the four days of camp.

NBA.com: What would you like to get out of next week’s camp?

Jerry Colangelo: Let’s go backwards, first. Let’s go back to Beijing. We had our Olympic roster and we weren’t sure what would take place in 2010 for the World Championship. As it turned out, we got an entirely new group of young players, who did an outstanding job. That was really a great effort in Istanbul to win that, with guys who went on to have outstanding seasons after that performance there. Then in London, in turned out as I expected, that the roster would be made up of probably half and half of the World Championship team and the Olympic team.

So now, as we look to ’14, some of the younger Olympians have indicated they definitely want to play next summer. So this roster for the World Cup primarily could come from this group plus a few players that we had that won’t be here. [Stephen] Curry and [David] Lee are just two names that have been involved with us in the past and are out because of injuries and rehab. And Kawhi Leonard, who was originally part of this group – we knew right away that he would not be able to [participate] because of rehab during the offseason this year.

So, primarily this group, a few others and some carryovers from the Olympic team in ’12 will make up the roster. So this process is to take a good look at this group of roughly 30 and come up with some determinations about the people that we would consider moving forward, in terms of selections for next summer.

But we’re not going to select the players from this camp. This is another preview. We also have the next NBA season to look before we select a team.

NBA.com: In 2010, you started with 20 players in training camp and eventually pared that down to 12 for the World Championship. Do you expect to do the same next summer?

Colangelo: It’s pretty hard to speculate what we would do. If we did that in the past, that’s probably our M.O. It’s hard to get down. It really is. So many players are close to one another. So the more we can see, the better it is. And it’s better for them too.

The good news is this thing is purring. The machine is going extremely well. The players want to be a part of this, as evidenced by all of this participation. And the pipeline is full. All that’s evidenced by how successful our junior teams are. The 19-and-under team that just won the gold medal is a terrific team of young talent. So they just keep coming, and as long as the players continue to aspire to be a part of the USA Basketball program, we’re in good shape.

NBA.com: This is a four-day camp with 30 players, including nine point guards. Will guys have enough opportunity to make an impression?

Colangelo: Oh, we think so. This is going to be a lot of scrimmaging. We think that’s the best way to look at a group like this. Obviously, we’re going to put in some of the stuff that we use.

By the way, with Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams coming in, they have to get assimilated. So part of this camp is everyone getting reacquainted and (for the first time) getting acquainted. And so it’s good to keep indoctrinating younger players into our program and our system, on the court and off the court.

NBA.com: On each of the last three rosters, you’ve had three NBA point guards and three NBA big men. Do you think you’ll continue using that formula or do you take it year by year?

Colangelo: It’s year by year, but what we do have is great athleticism with our players. We have a lot of wing players. We have a terrific number of point guards.

If you look at the roster we have in this camp plus the carryovers at the point guard position, that’s a very, very competitive position. But we have a lot of twos and threes also. There’s always been a shortage of bigs. You go with your strength and start with that.

NBA.com: When you bring these guys into the gym, do you learn a lot more about them than when you’re watching them during the NBA season?

Colangelo: Oh yeah. It doesn’t take a genius to look at talent and know who can run, jump, shoot, defend, etc. But it’s all the other things, how people relate, how they articulate, how they get along with one another, how they relate to us. So this is all part of the process. I think it’s really important to do exactly what we’ve been doing, because it seems to be successful and it’s what we believe in.

NBA.com: So how does a player make a positive impression on you next week?

Colangelo: In our minds, what players do on the floor and off the floor are equally important. How they get along with one another, how they relate to the coaching staff, how attentive they are in our meetings…

I’ll give you an example. Paul George last summer was on the Select Team, getting our Olympic Team ready. We saw a lot in Paul George. This kid was really coming. And of course, that translated into a terrific year in the NBA season. But throughout the season, he was quoted as saying things about what he learned during his time with USA Basketball and how much he wanted to be a part of it. So it works both ways.

Blogtable: Rockets Or Spurs Out West?

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs Big Three Has Two Years Left

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HANG TIME, Texas — Try to imagine Santa coming down the chimney wearing a glen plaid suit with a natty pocket square and maybe a jaunty beret on his head. Or Queen Elizabeth showing up at the next royal function sporting a pair of Uggs.

Certainly those sights would have been no more jarring than the thought of Manu Ginobili in something other than a San Antonio Spurs jersey.

El Contusion made any speculation that he might leave moot by tweeting that he has agreed to a new contract that will keep him with the club for two more years. Terms of the deal were not available, but it’s safe to say Ginobili will not get anywhere close to the $14.1 million from last season that made him the highest paid player on the team. It should be noted that when Tim Duncan agreed to his new deal last summer, he took a paycut from $21.15 million to $9.6 million.

While Ginobili’s contract obviously keeps together the core of the lineup that went to Game 7 of The Finals against the Heat last month, it is also safe to say it stamped an expiration date on the Spurs as we know them.

Assuming Duncan exercises his player option for the third year of his deal, the Spurs entire Big Three with have their contracts expire at the end of the 2014-15 season. Duncan will be 39, Ginobili will be 38 and point guard Tony Parker will be 33. At that point, the Spurs will have only three players on the books for the following season — Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Cory Joseph.

In other words, it will be time to start over, and most likely with a new coach, since Gregg Popovich has long vowed to walk out the door with Duncan.

But until that time we can count on the Spurs continuing to make the predictions about their impending demise look foolish. As Popovich mentioned after the loss to Miami, what’s not to like about a team that won 58 games and came within 28 seconds in Game 6 of knocking off the defending champs?

A top priority for the Spurs in October will be to get Ginobili back on track following a 2012-13 season that was often ugly. With his breakneck style, durability has never been his strength and Ginobili missed 22 games with a variety of ailments. When he did play, he averaged 11.8 points per game, shot just 42.5 percent overall and 35.3 percent from 3-point range, all figures that were near worsts for his 11-year career. He also committed 2.2 turnovers per game, including an abysmal eight times in the galling Game 6 and four times in Game 7.

Those problems aside, there was never a doubt that the Spurs wanted and needed him back to continue being the Spurs as we know them. It is still that lightning bolt streak of unpredictability Ginobili brings that can make him virtually impossible to plan for or defend. With the seemingly ageless Duncan extending his Hall of Fame career with an All-NBA first team season and Parker continuing to expand his skills and press his case as the league’s best point guard, the trio that has won three NBA championships together does not seem ready to back down.

The Spurs are reportedly in the running for free agent forward Andrei Kirilenko, who could get them another wing defender and attacker of the basket, along with veteran Kyle Korver, who could possibly supplant free agent Gary Neal as sharpshooter off the bench.

The grapevine also has San Antonio considering the idea of pursuing perpetually rehabilitating center Greg Oden. That’s the kind of chance you can take when you’re strong at the core, which is the case now that El Contusion is safely back in the fold.

With Ginobili on board, the Spurs are still the Spurs. But over the next two years get a good look at Tim, Tony, Manu and Pop. Because this contract stamps the end date and the clock is ticking.