Posts Tagged ‘Kemba Walker’

Analytics Art: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s Return Fueling Hornets Defense

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Former No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seemed poised for a breakout campaign ahead of his fourth professional season. The fourth-year leap is not uncommon, as Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls put on display last year by amalgamating everything together — making his first All-Star team and winning Most Improved Player.

Unfortunately for Hornets fans, Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot at emulating a similar jolt in production was put on hold when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder during the preseason opener. The injury required surgery, and he missed the first three months of the 2015-16 season as a result.

The 22-year-old was expected to be sidelined for six months, but he made his return well ahead of that timeline on Jan. 29 against the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s important to note that we’re dealing with a small sample size here (three games), but the Hornets have been a vastly improved defensive squad with MKG back in the lineup.

In the 98 minutes Charlotte has played with Kidd-Gilchrist thus far, opponents are scoring 94.2 points per 100 possessions on an effective field goal percentage of 44.3 percent. Compare that to the time spent competing without him (more than 2,200 minutes), in which the Hornets surrender an offensive rating of 105.3 to accompany an eFG% of 50.4 percent.

Again, the sample size is tiny — and the numbers benefit from a road dismantling of the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 31 — but a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday hints that the improvement with MKG is no fluke. His tenacity and raw skill on the defensive end sets the tone for coach Steve Clifford’s schemes.

Per Bill Kiser for the Charlotte Observer, Clifford was pleased to have the youngster back and playing at a high level.

“I knew how hard he had worked on his conditioning,” Clifford said leading up to the game against Cleveland. “To be honest, I was surprised at how long he was able to play. I just thought it would take him a while to play so well, but he’s worked so hard and it’s obviously showing.”

Through his first three games played in 2016, the former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Both of those marks would be career highs if sustained throughout the remainder of the season.

Not surprisingly, Kidd-Gilchrist’s player efficiency rating (PER) is also at a personal best.

The Hornets have been stung by the injury bug throughout the season. Obviously MKG has been out, but Al Jefferson has been sidelined 30 games and counting, Nic Batum missed time due to a toe injury and Kemba Walker was absent for the matchup against LeBron James and Co. nursing a sore left knee.

Despite all of those setbacks, Charlotte remains in the hunt for a playoff spot. The addition of Kidd-Gilchrist adds a big spark, but the Hornets still need to get healthy after the All-Star break. If they do, the Buzz could cobble together a stellar second half a la the Utah Jazz a season ago, who went 19-10 with the league’s best defensive rating. Stay tuned.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Report: OKC dealing Lamb to Hornets

Having already picked up small forward Nicolas Batum earlier tonight, the Hornets are not done dealing.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer is reporting that the Hornets will obtain guard Jeremy Lamb from Oklahoma City in a deal that involves the contract of recently-acquired Matt Barnes.

Having already traded Lance Stephenson to the Clippers and then shipping out Gerald Henderson to Portland in the deal that landed Batum, the Hornets are clearly in need of a shooting guard.

The Thunder are believed to be moving Lamb to clear out salary space to keep a pair of their own restricted free agents, Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler.

The 6-foot-5 Lamb was a first-round pick (No. 12) by Houston in 2013, but never played a game for the Rockets before he was part of the package for James Harden.

The Thunder had hoped that Lamb would replace some of the scoring lost out on the wing by Harden’s departure. But over three seasons he’s shot just 42.2 percent from the field and only 34.8 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Hornets must be hoping that reuniting with former college teammate Kemba Walker will help Lamb find that old UConn magic.

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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


BLOGTABLE: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 11


VIDEO:
Highlights from games played Dec. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets move Kirilenko | Knicks project united front | Rondo, Stephenson get physical | Warriors introduce new arena redesign

No. 1: Nets move Kirilenko — It’s not a member of their core, but the Nets have agreed to a trade that clears a bit of cap space. Forward Andrei Kirilenko goes from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, saving the Nets some cash, and the Nets add forward Brandon Davies and his non-guaranteed contract. As our John Schuhmann writes, it sure looks like neither player may be long for his new team…

Brandon Davies isn’t completely awful, but his contract is non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him and not have to pay him anything. Assuming they do, the trade would save them about $6.6 million in luxury tax payments, in addition to about $2.6 million of Kirilenko’s salary. If they include another player in the deal, they save more.

The deal will also give them a trade exception and an open roster spot. Both of those give them a little more flexibility in making future trades.

The Sixers get a little closer to the salary floor, not that it matters. They probably won’t keep Kirilenko, who hasn’t played since Nov. 13, hasn’t made a shot (or been in the Nets’ rotation) all season, and is dealing with a personal issue that has kept him away from the team.

***

No. 2: Knicks project united front — The Knicks have only won four games this season, but that hasn’t kept them from making headlines early on. According to a report yesterday from ESPN’s Chris Broussard, things behind the scenes with the Knicks have been as calamitous as their play on the court has been. Writes Broussard…

The New York Knicks were en route to their fifth straight loss last week against Brooklyn when a frustrated Tim Hardaway Jr. screamed angrily, “Get the rebound!”

Certain his second-year teammate was speaking to him, Carmelo Anthony approached Hardaway on the way down the court and used an expletive to ask Hardaway who in the world he thought he was talking to.

Anthony, according to sources, used another expletive in telling Hardaway he was going to beat him up when they got into the locker room after the game.

While the two players never wound up fighting, the episode was emblematic of the volatile state of the Knicks. Off to their worst start in franchise history at 4-19, the Knicks are a team full of discord, defiance and doubt, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

“Nobody’s taken a swing at anybody, but there’s a lot of arguing and cursing each other out after games,” one source said.

In addition to the Knicks’ lack of chemistry, sources say the players believe coach Derek Fisher’s insistence on running the triangle offense is another key reason for New York’s struggles.

After the ESPN report was published, the Knicks players met with the media while on the road in San Antonio and said things were not as bad as they sounded, noting that they had recently held a player’s-only meeting to help get everyone on the same page…

The Knicks started the day tied for the most losses in the league — seemingly ripe conditions for a story to emerge about internal discord. The article said that Anthony had a verbal spat with teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. during a game last week against the Nets. The report also said that Knicks players told Anthony that they were unhappy with his style of play — that he was not playing team basketball — and also that many players were displeased with Coach Derek Fisher’s systems.

Neither Anthony nor Hardaway denied on Wednesday that they had clashed on the court, but both men said the issue was behind them and described a fruitful mentor-student relationship. Anthony, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to the team and to perfecting Fisher’s system, including the triangle offense.

As far as hearing criticism from his teammates, Anthony revealed that there was a players-only meeting on Saturday at the team’s practice facility in which various concerns were raised, but he denied it had become particularly contentious.

“Everybody had a platform to speak their piece, and what they felt about what’s going on, and how we can better the situation,” Anthony said. “But it wasn’t no pointing fingers or anything like that, or solely pointing me out to be blamed.”

While reports of relationship issues may be overblown, a 4-20 record doesn’t lie: The Knicks lost big last night to a Spurs team missing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.

***

No. 3: Rondo, Stephenson get physical — During last night’s Celtics/Hornets game, with both teams desperate for a win, two of the NBA’s more competitive players found themselves in a battle neither could really win. Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson ended up banging into each other more than once, and as Jay King writes, to hear Rondo tell it, there may have been some flopping involved…

About five minutes into the third quarter of a 96-87 Boston Celtics loss, Rondo threw a high elbow that sent Stephenson tumbling to the court. The Charlette Hornets wing stood up and got in Rondo’s face; later in the same possession, after what looked like some jawing, both players were hit with technical fouls.

Asked about what happened, Rondo initially said, “Nothing at all. I said something to him and I didn’t know what I said could get a tech.”

Pressed on the elbow, the Celtics guard obviously implied Stephenson took a dive.

“He weighs about 60 more pounds than me, but that’s part of his game,” Rondo said.

“The game is contact. The game we play is contact. Whatever you saw, I don’t know,” he added. “I am strong. But I don’t think I was that strong on that play in particular to knock him down.”

Rondo notched his third triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, but committed three costly turnovers down the stretch. He also got beaten baseline by Kemba Walker for an and-1 with 3:46 left that pushed Charlotte’s lead to 90-85.

“We did (let an opportunity slip away),” Rondo said. “It started with me. I had some key turnovers in the fourth that I should have been able to take better care of the ball. And Kemba Walker had a backdoor play layup. So we’ve got to do better as a team, as a whole. And it starts with myself.”

***

No. 4: Warriors introduce new arena redesign — A few months ago the Golden State Warriors showed off pictures of their planned arena in San Francisco. It was touted as a step forward for the franchise, which currently has the best record in the NBA and has been based in Oakland’s Oracle Arena since 1971. There was one thing people noticed, however, about the new arena drawings: From above, it seemed to look like a toilet. Rather than sit with those criticisms, yesterday the Warriors dropped new sketches of the planned facility that should streamline the exterior of the new space

Gone is much of the rectangular viewing deck that, when coupled with the oval arena, gave the overhead view of the place the appearance of a giant toilet seat with the lid down. The deck has been shaved down to about half its old size, dropped about 13 feet below the roof line and given a sweeping curve.

“We are trying to flush the toilet bowl forever out of people’s consciousness,” said Warriors arena consultant Jesse Blout.

Instead, it looks more like an old Discman CD player, less likely to be the butt of humor.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard hopes to return Saturday for the Houston Rockets … Tom Thibodeau says any talk of trust issues in Chicago is “garbage.” Taj Gibson respectfully disagreesByron Scott is thinking about starting Kobe Bryant at point guard … The Mavericks are considering options regarding adding another big man … ABC is developing a sitcom about a foreign-born NBA player and his translator.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 180) Featuring Kemba Walker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Charlotte Hornets weren’t supposed to be in this predicament nearly a quarter of the way through this NBA season, staring up at the competition in the Eastern Conference standings.

If it was up to Kemba Walker, their star point guard and resident big shot artist, they wouldn’t be. And yet here they are, 5-15 and having to dig their way out of the rubble of their early season struggles. (And don’t blame Lance Stephenson either, Kemba doesn’t.)

We go under the hood of the Hornets with Walker for just a piece of the wild Episode 180 of the Hang Time Podcast, which also includes discussions on the Royal visit in Brooklyn to see LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Kobe Bryant‘s continued pursuit Michael Jordan and the No. 3 spot on the all-time scoring list, Chris Rock‘s new hit comedy (Lang spent some time with the star and the rest of his cast) and more.

As usual, we’ve got all the answers on Episode 180 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Hornets guard Kemba Walker

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Chris Rock and the cast of Top Five spend some quality time with Lang Whitaker

Blogtable: Charlotte vs. New York

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


BLOGTABLE: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16



VIDEO: Brent Barry breaks down what is going wrong with the Charlotte Hornets

> Charlotte or New York: Which is better equipped to actually make a run at the playoffs? Do you see that team making it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Charlotte still is in better shape, in my view. I’m more surprised by their miserable start, which means I considered them a better team going in. Nothing has changed there, though the Lance Stephenson funk is different from what I expected (I thought he’d stats-hunt and neglect teamwork while posting big numbers. Uh, not so much…) Generally, I like the Hornets’ roster better and their ability to defend, and I do think they’ll snag a low seed. The Knicks, not so much – on all fronts.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Hornets have the better 1-2 combination of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. If they can figure out a way to harness Lance Stephenson and rookie Noah Vonleh gets his legs, they’ve simply got a deeper lineup than the Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. And living in the Eastern Conference, you’re never out of it in December.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Charlotte. I still think the Hornets make it, but the bad start confirms a lot of the preseason worries they would take a step back this season. Losing Josh McRoberts to the Heat in free agency was bigger than most people realize. That’s still a better team than the Knicks, though. Getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back will help the defense. The healthy guards need to heal as well — Kemba Walker and/or Lance Stephenson have to start hitting shots.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Knicks are about tapped out in terms of a ceiling. Most of their core players are either at their peak or on the downside, unlike the Hornets, mostly loaded with young players who still have growth potential. Anything is possible in the East, including both teams reaching the playoffs, but for now I’ll go with the Hornets in a fight for the seventh or eighth spot.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Charlotte has the better chance. Though the Hornets need shooting, they have the tools to be at least somewhat successful on both ends of the floor. With the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and maybe a timely trade, they can definitely be in the mix for one of the last couple of playoff spots. The Knicks have too many bad defenders and their offense has been hindered by the Triangle, or at least their ability to run it smoothly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Playoffs? Did you really say “playoffs” … I’ll have two slices of that pie in the sky you were nibbling on when you cooked this question up. Neither one of these teams is currently on a playoff track, and barring a Christmas miracle I don’t see either one of them making that push. The Knicks have systemic issues that have been well documented. As to what went wrong in Charlotte, it’s a bit more complicated. The Hornets’ chemistry from a year ago is gone. It went up in smoke sometime between them presenting an offer sheet to Gordon Hayward and them adding Lance Stephenson instead. You don’t come back from this sort of chemistry hiccup without tinkering with the chemistry again (via a trade), which is another gamble for a team flat on its back after the first month of the season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hornets spent last year successfully developing Steve Clifford’s system. They have a better chance of resolving their chemistry problems because they’re committed to making this group work. The Knicks have no such commitment to this team: They have a new system and new leadership and can’t wait to start tearing up their roster.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Charlotte. The Knicks are a project, and they have a distance to travel both on the court and in regard tot heir roster. I know the Hornets are brutal right now on both sides of the ball, but they have a system that works, a coach who got his team to the playoffs a season ago, and most importantly, a deep group of talented players. Maybe there are some chemistry issues and fundamental things to figure out, but the Hornets should be able to shake through their issues and get on the winning track. And in the Eastern Conference, you’re never really out of the puzzle.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I don’t have much faith in either of these two teams’ postseason hopes. But if I had to, I’d pick the Hornets over the Knicks to make a run at the playoffs. New York is a lost cause right know: learning a new system with a bunch of players who either don’t believe in it or are not fit for it it’s almost impossible. Even if you have two legends like Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher trying to convince you it’s the right thing to do. The Hornets were supposed to fight for a top 4 spot in the East: they have a playoff roster, they just need to find out a way to convince Lance Stephenson to fit into their system. Steve Clifford, with some help from His Airness, Michael Jordan, could make it.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: Definitely the Hornets. They’ve started terribly but their schedule has been incredibly tough. Steve Clifford built an elite defense last season that revolved around stopping easy transition baskets, they’ve gone away from that this season but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury hasn’t helped. They’ll improve defensively, it’s on the offensive end that I’m concerned. If they can bring in a little more shooting they may be able to turn things around here. I wasn’t one to get excited about this team in the offseason, Lance Stephenson wasn’t going to suddenly remedy their problems and losing Josh McRoberts was big. Right now, neither team will probably make the playoffs, but clearly if you have to choose one, I’m not banking on the Knicks!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Make the playoffs? No I don’t think so. Charlotte has a better roster, despite the fact that they lack a star with Melo’s caliber. They have a solid core (Gary Neal, Al Jefferson, Stephenson, Walker), but still are missing important parts to become an playoff team. Perhaps what they are missing is a Lance Stephenson’s Indiana days. He is not shooting well and the team needs him to step up.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: New York, but the road to the playoffs will be tough, and we not sure if they will make it.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: Because of their balance, depth, familiarity with the system, and defensive strengths, I think Charlotte is more likely to be a playoff team this season than New York. They have had a tough start to the season for sure, but the season is long and the East is weak: the Hornets have enough talent between Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, MKG, and Lance Stephenson to sharpen their rough edges in time for making a successful playoff run.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com/Mexico: New York. They have the talent: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and one Jose Calderon; Structure: Derek Fisher on the bench running the show and Phil Jackson as director. If they can come together and demonstrate their quality, they will make it to the playoffs over Charlotte. The fundamental points are that the team succeeds in implementing the triangle offense that led Jackson to win 11 titles in the NBA and that ‘Melo doesn’t run out of patience and decide he wants a ‘change of air’ by midseason.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: I think Charlotte will get it going at some point, the Lance Stephenson experiment is not working right now but he is due to break out of his slump soon. Big Al Jefferson is consistent and a monster on the block while Kemba Walker is a top flight point guard in the league. New York is in a deeper hole, they don’t have the right players for their system and worse, Fisher can’t seem to make them play defense, their better off rebuilding full time than hope for a miracle with this group although it wouldn’t surprise me if Jose Calderon can somehow resuscitate their offense.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I think the Knicks have the longer way to go. There are too many things they have to adjust. Coach Fisher still needs time to get to know his players. Who fits for the triangle offense and who not? It’s a transition year for them. Anyway they have the quality to claim a playoff-spot, it’s only 3,5 games to the last spot. But at the moment, I think the problems the Hornets have are a bit smaller. They have to figure out, how Stephenson and Walker fit together. Both needs the ball in their hands, without it they’re ineffective. In addition Charlotte has to find their defensive mindset again. Their team-defense is awful at the moment. But they will solve their problems. The quality in the team is high enough to be a good team in the East. I believe the Hornets will make it to the playoffs.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Who cashed in (and who didn’t) from the 2011 draft?

VIDEO: Klay Thompson extends with the Warriors

The best way to judge a draft is to wait a few years and see who gets paid the most and the quickest. Which means we know a lot more about the first round of the 2011 class, now that the deadline for contract extensions has passed.

And the verdict is … what, exactly?

Only six of the 14 players taken int the lottery beat the deadline and got richer. That means the draft was so-so at best and disappointing at worst. But complicating matters is the smell of big money down the road. Thanks to the new TV deal and the looming labor negotiations in a few years, some players are willing to place bets on themselves and hold out for a few extra dollars. It’s also known as the Kawhi Leonard route. The MVP of the 2014 Finals and 15th overall pick had hoped for a max deal, didn’t get one from the Spurs, and will try the market next summer during restricted free agency.

But he was the big exception, and so, we survey the scene for the first-round winners and losers.

Winners:

Klay Thompson (drafted No. 11): Got four years and $70 million from the Warriors to make a big, umm, splash. At roughly $17 million a season, he hasn’t made an All-Star team, yet he’s earning more than Paul George and Russell Westbrook. If you think that’s an overpay, well, the market, which is about to expand, says otherwise. Warriors didn’t want to chance Thompson going on the market and were very comfortable with his growth so far.

Kyrie Irving (1): The Cavs didn’t waste any time giving him the max this summer, and as a bonus, gave him LeBron James. If he gets a ring next June, then it will have been quite the 12-month stretch.

Kenneth Faried (22): There were six power forwards taken ahead of him, including three in the lottery. But Faried worked his way into a four-year, $50 million deal with rolled-up sleeves. The Nuggets are hoping this deadline deal works better than the one for JaVale McGee.

The Morris Twins (13 and 14): Markieff and Marcus Morris didn’t want to test the market, not necessarily because the money wouldn’t have been better, but because they didn’t want to separate. Unless you were born within minutes of your brother or sister, you wouldn’t understand. So the Suns’ forwards agreed to keep the family together. Markieff gets $32 million and Marcus $20 million. Oh, and they keep their money in the same bank account.

Nik Vucevic (16): It didn’t take long for the Magic to find Dwight Howard‘s replacement. Vucevic still needs to refine his skills but big men with double-double ability averaging 13.6 and 11.5 in two Magic seasons) are hard to come by, and that’s why Orlando forked over $53 million over four years. That’s a good, fair price for a young and developing center.

Kemba Walker (9): A day after agreeing to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Hornets, Walker hit the game-tying and game-winning shots in the home opener. He’s a small, shoot-first point guard but is a straight-up baller who craves big moments. A no-brainer for a team desperate for talent and a turnaround.

Ricky Rubio: He was drafted in 2009 but after two years playing in Spain is technically part of the 2011 rookie crop. After the Wolves lost Kevin Love, there was a concern whether Rubio would want to stick around for what could be a lengthy rebuilding process. Yet from the first day of camp, Rubio said he was excited to start a fresh era in Minnesota. His four year, $56 million deal is essentially Eric Bledsoe money, not bad considering Rubio is still looking for consistency and a stretch of good health.

Chandler Parsons (38) and Isaiah Thomas (60): Yes, they were second-rounders, but when one player gets roughly $16 million a season from Dallas and the last pick of the draft gets $6 million a year, as Thomas did this summer from the Suns, they sound like winners to me.

Losers:

Derrick Williams (2): He’s already on his second team and could fetch a few dollars next summer, but this so-called NBA-ready player from the draft struggles to find a comfort zone between the forward spots. He needs a solid season to decrease his flaws and prove that he can be more than a journeyman in this league. If he can’t do that in Sacramento, you wonder if he can do it anywhere. You only get so many chances before teams simply move on.

Enes Kanter (3): After the Jazz forked over big dollars for Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, they’re done paying for potential, at least for the moment anyway. Not only is Kanter inconsistent, he’s on a team with Derrick Favors, who got paid a year ago, and Rudy Gobert, whom the Jazz are high on. Kanter looks to be the odd big man out and could be bait at the trade deadline.

Jimmy Butler (30): He and the Bulls were a few million apart at the deadline, and even though Butler could get a decent offer next summer, it might not be from Chicago. The Bulls like his defense, but he lacks what they really could use: outside shooting from the two-guard spot. That’s why they didn’t blow him away at the deadline.

Kings: In addition to delaying Williams, they spent their first-round pick on Jimmer Fredette, who was taken one spot ahead of Thompson. In a weird twist, the Kings, whose brain trust comes from the Warriors, were hoping to steal Thompson next summer.

Wizards: Has anyone seen or heard from Jan Vesely, the No. 6 pick in 2011? There haven’t been many players drafted that high who failed to get a third-year qualifying offer. He’s now playing in Turkey after flaming out quickly with the Wizards, then Nuggets.

Hornets, Walker reportedly reach deal

The Hornets continued to spend, and to build on the momentum of last season, by reportedly agreeing with point guard Kemba Walker on a four-year extension worth $48 million, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

Walker averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists last season as a key part of Charlotte’s rise in the Eastern Conference. He is just 24 years old, another appeal for the Hornets.

The payout comes about 3 1/2 months after Charlotte spent $27 million over three years for Lance Stephenson to play small forward (after signing Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63-million offer sheet the Jazz matched) and 15 months after committing three years and $40.5 million on center Al Jefferson.

Summer Dreaming: Most Improved Player


VIDEO: Is Giannis Antetokounmpo primed to make an even bigger splash?

Pass the sunblock, turn up the music and bring some more ice for those cold drinks on these hottest days.

While we’re still making notes on our viewing calendar about the best match-ups to watch on the just released NBA schedule for the new season, the fantasy party goes on as we jump into the pool with our five Summer Dreaming candidates for Most Improved Player in 2015.

Send us your picks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — The word that best described the “Greek Freak” as a rookie last season was raw. He showed the length, the athleticism, all the physical gifts to one day take the step from bundle of potential to a bonafide star. He’s still young and has plenty of time to mature. But based on the commitment he says he’s willing to make and his performance at Summer League, there might not be anything holding back Antetokounmpo from making that jump quickly. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and shot 37 percent from behind the arc in Las Vegas. Now that he’ll have Jabari Parker likely occupying the power forward spot in the Bucks lineup, he’ll be free to run the floor, attack the basket and fill it up from almost anywhere. The Freak Show could take off.


VIDEO: Bradley Beal discusses his breakthrough season and looks ahead to upcoming season

Bradley Beal, Wizards — The improvement from Year One to Year Two was already showing. Then Beal gave us a glimpse of what he can do at the next level when he stepped it up in the first round of the playoffs by averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Bulls. Now he and backcourt partner John Wall not only have that valuable experience, but also the sting of being cut from Team USA tryouts this summer as added fuel to the fire. The loss of Trevor Ariza means that Beal will not only have to contribute more on offense, but also make a bigger commitment at the defensive end. A big step up for a breakout season could put the Wizards in the battle at the top of the Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ Top 10 plays of 2013-14

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Here’s the scary one, because of the high level he’s already achieved, yet the potential is there for Davis to contend for Most Improved and Most Valuable Player at the same time. Turned loose last season by coach Monty Williams, he showed that there are few things he’s not capable of doing in a game, if he can stay healthy. The only real thing lacking was somebody to watch his back. Now the Pelicans have added center Omer Asik as a rim protector and fellow defensive force in the paint and that means Davis can be even freer to move out from the basket to wreak havoc. He’s only 22 years old and the party in the French Quarter has just begun.


VIDEO: Will All-Star weekend become a new home for Victor Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo, Magic — OK, end of the experiment. No more trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole. There will be times and situations when Oladipo can handle the point for short stints. But now that they’ve got rookie Elfrid Payton in the lineup, Orlando’s previous top draft pick can concentrate more on slashing and attacking the basket and doing all of the things that can make him a force. He put up decent numbers in his first year and his turnover rate was quite high. That’s because he was playing an uncomfortable role much of the time. Now you take off the handcuffs, turn him loose and let him fly.


VIDEO: Kemba Walker notches second career triple-double

Kemba Walker, Hornets — On one hand, a guy who averaged nearly 18 points a game last season might not seem a likely candidate for Most Improved. But the third year wasn’t quite the charm for Walker as he had to accommodate the arrival of big man Al Jefferson in the middle. His shooting suffered and there were far fewer times when his offense lit up the scoreboard. The arrival of free agent Lance Stephenson as a fierce defender and good playmaker will create more chances for Walker. The addition of P.J. Hairston, another good shooter from the perimeter, will give him more opportunities for assists, which have been steadily climbing.

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)