Posts Tagged ‘Klay Thompson’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 18




VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe’s return | Rondo returns | Durant explodes | Rubio’s thrill is gone | Red-hot Grizzlies

No. 1: Bryant has no intention of sitting out — It doesn’t matter that if his Lakers continue to plummet in the standings. It doesn’t matter if the team might be better off the long run — and for the end of his own career — by getting a high lottery pick and maybe a budding young star. It doesn’t even matter what legend Magic Johnson thinks. Kobe Bryant says he has every intention of returning to the court this season because, well, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, he’s Kobe and that’s all he knows:

“The only thing I can afford to consider is getting better, getting stronger,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 107-104 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday. “I can’t allow myself to think any other way. I can only think about the next step. To do anything else becomes distracting if you allow yourself, if you give yourself wiggle room to not push yourself as hard as you possibly can. To think about sitting out and this, that and the other, your motivation is all wrong. I refuse to think that way.”

Magic Johnson disagreed, as the former Lakers star questioned whether Bryant should come back at all this season in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week.

“What is he coming back to? He’s not going to be able to stop the pick and roll, all the layups the Lakers are giving up,” Johnson told the newspaper. “He’s been hurt twice, give him the whole year to get healthy.”

In the same interview, Johnson called hiring Mike D’Antoni last season a “wrong decision.”

“Normally I don’t hear it until [the media] brings it up,” D’Antoni said, adding that he has never spoken to Johnson in person since joining the Lakers. “There’s voices everywhere, and it’s a hard job to do no matter what team you’re with. You do the best you can and you feel like every day is a new battle, and everybody has their opinion. There’s a saying about that. … So, that’s the way it is. You go on and do your job.”

Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 when he suffered a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee during the Lakers’ 96-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, said he will return this season so long as he is medically cleared.
“We’ll see where it’s at in February and see if it’s good to go,” Bryant said, pushing back his return timeline ever so slightly, with D’Antoni having recently said Bryant would be re-evaluated Jan. 27, at the conclusion of the team’s current seven-game trip while the Grammy Awards take over Staples Center.

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No. 2: Rondo looks and feels good in first game of season — It was his first game in almost a year, but Rajon Rondo showed no ill effects of the surgery to repair his torn right ACL. Even though the Celtics let the Lakers close with an 11-0 run to win the game, the new team captain told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com that overall conditioning in his biggest hurdle going forward:

“I felt pretty good,” said Rondo, who didn’t have any significant pain but knows that could change within the next 24 hours. “When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn’t feel like I was limited to anything tonight.”

Rondo has reiterated time and time again that his conditioning, more than anything else, remains his biggest hurdle.
For the 19-plus minutes he played, Rondo didn’t appear to show any concern or apprehension on the floor relative to his surgically repaired right knee.

In fact, the biggest issue facing Rondo going forward doesn’t appear to be what he’s doing on the floor.
It has to do with what happens when he’s not on the floor for long stretches of time, something that will inevitably happen as long as he has to play with minute restrictions.

Prior to Rondo’s first game, head coach Brad Stevens said he would be limited to 18-20 minutes per game.
It is unclear how long he will have minute restrictions.
“Coach (Stevens) and I talked about my minutes, how we were going to spread it out, you know, five minutes a quarter,” Rondo said. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

***

No. 3: Durant takes his game to new heights with 54 points — If there comes a times next May or June when Kevin Durant is raising the MVP award above his head, will this have been the night when he wrestled the trophy out of the grasp of LeBron James? K.D. took on the Splash Brothers Friday night and gave them a dunking with a career-high 54 points on just 28 shots and staked his claim in leading the Thunder past the Warriors. Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman says it was Durant’s best night ever:

“He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson.
The game started as a sharpshooting duel between teammates. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who put the gold in Golden State, seemed to be playing a solitary game of H-O-R-S-E in the first quarter.

But by game’s end, there was no doubt who wore the crown. This was Durant’s finest offensive game as a pro.
Durant made 19 of 28 shots and virtually matched the long-range bombs of Curry and Thompson. The Warrior backcourt duo each nailed two 3-pointers in the first seven minutes and each nailed three treys in the first quarter.
Curry and Thompson finished with a combined 63 points. Curry had 37, making six of 10 3-pointers; Thompson had 26 points, making six of nine deep balls.

But Durant finished five of eight on 3-pointers. His 19 field goals tied a career high. The only two times he’s made more than 16 baskets in a game, he’s gone 19 of 28 overall. Friday against Golden State and Feb. 2012 against Denver, when Durant scored 51 points in a 124-118 Thunder victory.

But this performance was better. That Denver team included Andre Iguodala, one of the NBA’s few defenders capable of giving Durant a rough time, but Iguodala missed that game.

Now a Warrior, Iguodala played 29 1/2 minutes Friday night but was no match for Durant.

“The great players, you can play great defense and he can have numbers,” Jackson said. “It’s just a question of making him work. He hit some tough shots, some incredible shots. Give him credit.”

Durant now is averaging a career high 30.6 points a game this season. He was asked to carry a heavier load when Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery just after Christmas, and Durant has responded. He’s averaged 36.8 points the last five games.

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No. 4: Rubio says he isn’t having any fun these days playing ballRicky Rubio says a lot of the blame for the Timberwolves disappointing 18-21 start to the season should be placed on his shoulders. The flamboyant point guard admitted to John Krawcyznski of the Associated Press that he just isn’t enjoying playing the game this season:

“I’m going to be honest. I’m not feeling comfortable out there,” Rubio told The Associated Press after a light practice on Thursday. “I’m not being myself and the team is noticing. I just have to be back where I was, be myself. I’m working on that. It’s something that’s missing. It’s tough for me, too.”

Rubio’s shooting numbers have never been great, but harping on that always seemed to be nitpicking for a player who sprinkled magic point guard dust all over the court — slipping passes through a defender’s legs for an open 3-point shot, picking a player’s pocket to start a fast break and seeing windows open before the defenders knew what hit them.

Even when he wasn’t starting his rookie season, the arena would crackle when he stepped to the scorer’s table to check in and his teammates’ eyes would widen in anticipation of a passes that came from impossible angles. It was still there last season when he returned from a torn ACL in December, even though his body took some time to ramp back up to the NBA’s pace of play.

“It’s basketball. I love it,” Rubio said. “But I’m just not having as much fun as it used to be. I know it has to be professional. But I just want to have fun. It’s hard to find it right now.”

***

No. 5: The Grizzlies are finally making their move –Just in case anybody forgot how important Marc Gasol is in Memphis, the All-Star center made a game-saving deflection to clinch a win over the Kings. The Grizzlies are now 3-0 since he returned to the lineup after a knee injury, have won five in a row overall and have crept back above the .500 mark and into the playoff picture in the West. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Gasol said later that he got fortunate on a gamble. But nothing about the Grizzlies’ season-high, five-game winning streak could be reduced to a stroke of luck.

The Griz (20-19) moved above .500 for the first time since early December and now they can claim a steadily improving defense. Memphis trailed 86-79 with 5:19 left and allowed Sacramento just one field goal the rest of the game.
Gay’s putback dunk cut the Grizzlies’ lead to a point with 38.9 seconds left. There had been no movement in the score when the Kings received the ball with 15.1 ticks remaining.

The Griz were as disruptive on the final possession as they had been the second half of the fourth quarter. Gay had the ball slapped away twice as he tried to attempt a game-winner from 15 feet. The Kings never got a clean look at the basket down the stretch.

“We’re making the right decisions at the right time,” Conley said after scoring a game-high 25 points. “I told the guys that it’s good to have games like this where you have a little adversity and come back. Those are the ones you learn from the most.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: J.R. Smith shows signs of positive life in Knicks loss … DeAndre Jordan wants to be more than just a dunker Jimmer Freddette could be turning a corner with steady playing time.

Warriors Run Out Of Gas Against Nets Before They Can Make History

VIDEO: Nets snuff out Warriors

NEW YORK – No team in NBA history had ever swept a road trip of seven games or more.

There’s a reason for that, and for why that bit of trivia still applies after Wednesday’s game in Brooklyn. Playing seven road games in a row is really hard.

The Golden State Warriors made it through six straight wins – including a victory in Miami last Thursday – but didn’t have enough gas in the tank to get win No. 7 on Wednesday, falling to the Brooklyn Nets, 102-98.

As much fun as it is to watch Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson launch 3s, to watch the second-best passing forward in the league, to watch David Lee‘s brilliance on the pick-and-roll, and to watch Andrew Bogut‘s craftiness inside, the Warriors’ 10-game winning streak and 19-3 record with both Curry and Andre Iguodala healthy was about defense.

During the streak, the Warriors scored 103.4 points per 100 possessions, a little over the league average for offensive efficiency. But they allowed just 93.3, a little over what the Indiana Pacers — the No. 1 defense in the league — have allowed this season. In the 22 games that Curry and Iguodala had played, they had allowed 94.9. Overall, they ranked fourth in defensive efficiency entering Wednesday’s action.

And it was on defense where fatigue affected them most in Brooklyn. The Warriors got off to a hot shooting start, held the Nets to just 16 points on their first 24 possessions of the night, and led by 16 late in the first quarter. But over the final 12 1/2 minutes of the first half, Brooklyn scored 43 points in 26 possessions.

The Warriors were a step slow on most possessions, two steps slow on others. Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston seemingly strolled to the rim on a few occasions. And really, as the Nets took a seven-point lead into halftime, it looked like the Warriors (and the streak) were done.

But they fought back, took the lead late in the third quarter, and went down to the wire. And again, they just didn’t have enough in the tank, shooting 1-for-8 (0-for-5 from 3-point range) in the final four minutes.

The Warriors’ lack of depth certainly contributed to their fatigue. Back-up guards Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore had an atrocious stretch in the second quarter, so Curry and Thompson played the entire second half. Curry led all scorers with 34 points, but went 0-for-8 from 3-point range after making his first two bombs in the first period.

And that’s the issue with the Warriors going forward. They’ve been terrific when they’ve been healthy, but their lack of a competent back-up for Curry could wear him down by April. So it’s no wonder they’d love to acquire Andre Miller or Kyle Lowry.

Still, a 6-1 trip is impressive. A top-five defense will win them a lot of games. A potent offense could help them deep in the playoffs. And the toughness they showed in Brooklyn on Thursday will help them in big spots down the line. Though the end-of-the-trip fatigue was obvious to any observer, the Warriors weren’t using it as an excuse.

“It’s a long road trip,” Curry said, “but we can’t let that be an excuse for how the game ended. We have to find a way to win.”

“Give them credit,” added head coach Mark Jackson. “They got in a rhythm, put us in tough situations with their pick-and-rolls, and they made plays.”

Indeed, the Nets deserve credit. They’re playing their best basketball of the season and have found some success with a small lineup. Now they have the longest winning streak in the league at four games. Three of the wins have come against teams with winning records and two have come without Deron Williams.

But this game was as much about the Warriors’ schedule as it was about how well the Nets have played in 2014. Seven games in seven cities over 11 days is rough, especially when the trip ends with a back-to-back in Milwaukee and Brooklyn.

“It was a frustrating way to end the streak,” Lee said, “but overall, a 6-1 road trip is very positive.”

Film Study: The Roll Of David Lee

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat entered Thursday’s game in Miami as top 10 defenses. Neither looked like one during a 123-114 victory for the Warriors, their seventh straight victory.

The Dubs got 36 points and some ridiculous shots from Stephen Curry. They also got 32 points and 14 rebounds from David Lee.

Lee had just three assists, but it was his ability to handle the ball out of the pick-and-roll that was a big key to chewing up the Heat’s aggressive defense to the tune of of 123 points on 101 possessions.

For the most part, Miami’s big men would stay with Curry as he came off Lee’s screens, and when Curry’s defender recovered, they had Curry trapped. Lee acted as a release valve for his point guard, and when he got the ball, the Warriors typically had a three-on-two situation on the weak side of the floor.

Here’s Lee with the ball on the Warriors’ fifth possession of the game …

20140102_lee_3on2

Shane Battier has chased Curry out to the left sideline and Mario Chalmers has recovered to his man, leaving Chris Bosh and LeBron James on the weak side to cover Lee, Andrew Bogut (in the paint) and Andre Iguodala (in the corner).

It seems pretty simple, but the key is having a big man who can provide a passing lane for his point guard, and then handle the ball well enough to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness.

Over the course of 48 minutes, the Heat switched up their coverages and the Warriors ran different wrinkles to keep Miami on its toes.

Here are six different pick-and-roll plays from Thursday night, all involving Lee and all resulting in a Golden State basket …

Play 1 – Attacking the 3-on-2

This is the play from the image above. Lee attacks that three-on-two situation and gets help from Bogut, who holds off Bosh.


VIDEO: David Lee attacks the 3-on-2 situation vs. Miami

Lee was 8-for-10 in the restricted area on Thursday.

Play 2 – Weak-side flash

Here, the Warriors run a Curry/Lee pick-and-roll from the side of the floor. When Battier and Chalmers trap Curry, it’s Bogut who acts as the release valve, flashing to the foul line from the weak-side block. The trap up top forced Bosh to try to defend both bigs, and he gets caught in the middle.


VIDEO: Andrew Bogut flashes from the foul line from the weak-side block

Play 3 – Taking the Heat off their game

At this point in the game, Lee had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting. The threat of the roll forces Bosh to make an adjustment on the high pick-and-roll, leaving Curry a lot earlier than usual in order to stay with his man. But Norris Cole doesn’t recover in time and Curry beats him to the basket.


VIDEO: Steph Curry gets a good look due to Norris Cole’s poor defensive recovery

Play 4 – Empty strong side

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Warriors run a pick-and-roll with nobody on the strong side of the floor. Bosh is back to blitzing Curry, who gets the ball back to Lee at the top of the key. As Lee attacks the paint, Curry doesn’t stop moving, leaving both Bosh and Cole in the dust. They have a two-on-one against Dwyane Wade‘s weak-side help and Curry gets a layup.


VIDEO: Curry gets a layup off of the Warriors’ two-on-one action

Play 5 – Curry off the ball

With about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Curry wasn’t getting open for any free looks from the perimeter. So the Warriors took him off the ball and had Iguodala run the pick-and-roll with Lee, who attacks the paint and kicks the ball out to the perimeter, where Chalmers is caught between Klay Thompson on the wing and Curry on the perimeter. How would you like your dagger, Mr. Chalmers?


VIDEO: Lee attacks the paint and finds Curry cutting to the rim

Play 6 – Mouse in the house

On the next possession, we have another Iguodala/Lee pick-and-roll. Instead of trapping it and falling victim to another three-on-two situation, the Heat switch it. The Warriors see the mismatch, get the ball to Lee at the high post, and he makes quick work of Wade.


VIDEO: Lee operates in the high post and scores on Dwyane Wade

The key against the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense is to get rid of the ball quickly. The easiest way to do that is for the screener to stay high and give the ball-handler a passing lane. But for most teams, having a big man with the ball 20 feet from the basket isn’t necessarily a good thing. If the screener isn’t adept at both passing and handling the ball himself, Miami can recover back and/or force turnovers.

The Warriors did commit 20 turnovers on Thursday and they have the league’s worst turnover rate. But they also forced the Heat to make adjustments defensively, because they got the ball to Lee quickly and he made the right decisions with it.

Lee has his issues on defense, but he’s one of the most skilled bigs in the league. And there’s not a better passing frontline in the league than Iguodala, Lee and Bogut. With Curry and Thompson (and Iguodala) providing the perimeter shooting, the Golden State starters have been the best offensive lineup in the league (minimum 100 minutes played).

The issue, of course, is their depth. While the starters have scored 117.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Golden State lineups have scored just 99.8.

Warriors efficiency

Lineups GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starting lineup 19 360 99.3 117.4 97.0 +20.5 +137
Others 34 1,285 99.2 99.8 98.9 +0.8 +19

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

The Warriors have a top-five defense and an offense that has played at a top-10 level when both Curry and Iguodala have been healthy (they’re 16-3 in those games), but they need one more guard to keep them afloat when the starters keep them off the floor. Their turnover ratio is higher with Curry off the floor (19.9 per 100 possessions) that it is with him on (16.2).

Still, for one night, while their defense struggled against the second best offense in the league, the skills of their starting lineup had enough to pick up their seventh straight win.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks at Miami’s deficiencies at defending the pick-and-roll

Point Of Origins For Cavaliers, Warriors




VIDEO: Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving waged an intense point guard battle Sunday night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Random games like Sunday night’s Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup need to come with a disclaimer:

“Objects on the screen might appear to be similar but most certainly are not” 

An overtime game led by potential superstar young point guards that are the keys to their respective rebuilding projects – Stephen Curry for Golden State and Kyrie Irving for Cleveland — was as close as it gets. But there’s a fork in the road dividing these two franchises right now.

The Warriors have won a season-high five straight games (tying last season’s season-high) and finally appear to be back on the track many (myself included) predicted for them before the season began. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have lost five straight and continue a twisted spiral into the Eastern Conference abyss, a voyage fraught with solid decisions gone awry (the Andrew Bynum experiment) and missed opportunities at nearly every stop along the way.

While the Warriors have been mostly praised for all that’s gone well — and rightfully so — the Cavaliers have somehow escaped the discerning eye of many due to what I call the LeBron James Left ‘Em Syndrome.

But how many swings and misses do the Cavaliers get? How long will they be allowed to use that as cover for a failure to get it together on and off the court?

From owner Dan Gilbert and his declaration that the Cavs would win a title before LeBron would in Miami (completely misguided when initially uttered and even more foolish now that the Heat have been to The Finals three straight years and won two titles) to repeated misfires in the Draft (Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett) and coaching hires (Byron Scott and perhaps Mike Brown the second time around … the jury is still out), it’s been one tire fire after another.

At a time when playoff positions from three to eight are wide open in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers’ performance is excruciatingly painful. Not only has there reportedly been friction between Irving and both Waiters and Bynum, now the former Lakers’ and Sixers’ big man has basically been exiled (with pay) by the Cavs until they can either figure out what to do with him or pawn him off on someone else.

The repeated stumbles on the court during their current tailspin only magnify the mistakes made off the court by general manager Chris Grant and his staff. You have to wonder if they are learning from all of these mistakes or not.

“I feel like we’re close,” Brown told the Plain Dealer after the loss to the Warriors. “Obviously, these losses bother our guys, and they bother them in the right way. But we have to stay at it. All these experiences are great for us to go through, you just hope you can come out on the winning end on most of them. I’ve got to give my guys credit because they’re competing. I’ve just got to try to keep helping them at the end of games.”

While the Cavaliers continue to struggle and continue to try to “figure it out,” the Warriors are moving on from early season injuries and transitions for guys like Andre Iguodala, and finally grooving a bit. The work done by the Warriors’ front office, led by the totally understated and completely underrated Bob Myers, has been splendid.

They’ve been aggressive in the Draft, with trades and in free agency. They’ve cashed in with the likes of Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli comprising a core group that should be the envy of rebuilding outfits from coast to coast. They’ve battled through injuries to their stars to continue their ascent.

Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a risky hire when he was plucked from his analyst seat at ESPN and ABC without any coaching experience, has developed nicely along with his team (eat your heart out, Brooklyn). They’re building something that is more than just a one-time, flash in the playoff pan.

Much of it has to do with Curry, his game and his personality. He’s become a point guard in every sense of the word. When you start there and build properly around a player like that, the process runs much more smoothly.

The Warriors have pulled this off not only by rebuilding a roster, but rebuilding a culture and fueling it with tangible results. It’s a blueprint the Cavaliers would be wise to sneak a peek at as they continue to try to “figure it out.”

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

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade to the Heat’s rescue | Asik Boston bound? | Report: Lakers holding on to Gasol | Warriors catching Spurs at the perfect time

No. 1: Wade rides to the rescue in Heat comeback – LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen all made big plays during the Heat’s wild comeback against the Indiana Pacers, but it was the performance of Dwyane Wade that truly stood out in a contest that felt much more like a playoff game than it did a regular season game in December. His game-high 32 points provided the Heat the opportunity needed to storm back and snatch the game. It was work that we’ve seen sparingly from Wade this season as he nurses the soreness in his knees. It’s finishing work the Heat will need more of, particularly in their matchups against the Pacers, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

The Heat trailed 88-80 after Pacers firebrand Lance Stephenson converted a driving layup, but the Heat’s defense steadied itself from there and, thanks to some clutch three-pointers, the home team outscored the Pacers 12-4 over the final 4 1/2 minutes.

“We just kept grinding,” said Dwyane Wade, who finished with a game-high 32 points. “We knew we were getting some good opportunities, but we just couldn’t pull it as close as we wanted, but we knew we weren’t far out of it.

“We got some great defensive stops that allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets and get us back in this thing. You don’t want this team in half-court every possession, so we had to get stops, and we went with the bigger lineup with [Chris Bosh] and [Chris Andersen], and we were able to get more rebounds and get out and go a little bit.”

Wade was 8 of 11 in the second half and matched Paul George point for point in the final 24 minutes of the game. Both players had 18 points in the second half; George finished with 25 points to lead Indiana.

Pacers forward David West was an unstoppable force for long stretches in the second half until Heat coach Erik Spoelstra plugged Andersen in the paint alongside Bosh. The combination, along with James at his hybrid point-forward position, came through with needed stops.

A running dunk by Wade with 2:47 remaining cut the Pacers’ lead to three points, and, after a pair of missed jumpers by the Pacers, Bosh knocked down a three-pointer with 90 seconds left to tie it at 92-92. Bosh finished with 15 points.

“Our guys are fearless, no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “They would want to play every single game like this, with this type of intensity and drama and having to make big plays down the stretch.”


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s highlights against the Pacers

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No. 2: Asik could be headed for Boston at any moment: – All that’s left for the Houston Rockets to do is finalize whatever the best deal is for their disgruntled big man Omer Asik. The Boston Celtics have emerged as the clear frontrunner, according to multiple reports, including one from our very own Fran Blinebury (who reports that Rockets GM Daryl Morey is weighing all of his final options before executing a deal by his self-imposed deadline that ends today). Rockets coach Kevin McHale and Celtics boss Danny Ainge have a longstanding relationship as former teammates, friends and trade partners (Kevin Garnett …), so Asik going to Boston will shock no one. Still, there are other possibilities in play until something gets done officially:

The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.

Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.

The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.

Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.

With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page —@paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.

If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.

The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.

VIDEO: The Game Time crew examines the merits of a Rockets-Celtics deal for Asik

***

No. 3: Gasol no longer on the trading block? – You can go ahead and remove Pau Gasol‘s name from the list of big men who could be moved … right now. According to a report from ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, the Lakers are no longer shopping their four-time All-Star. Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni got sideways last week but repaired the damage quickly and moved on. Now, instead of his name being swirled around in trade rumors alongside Houston’s Asik, Gasol appears to be safe … for now:

The Lakers entered the 2013-14 campaign fully intending to keep Gasol for the whole season and then to explore the feasibility of re-signing him in the summer. But ESPN.com reported last week the Spaniard’s recent public complaints about how he’s been used in D’Antoni’s system, as well as some subpar play, prompted L.A. to begin assessing its trade options.

However, the way Gasol quickly made amends with conciliatory comments about D’Antoni during the team’s recently completed 2-2 road trip has eased concerns. Gasol had 21 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 96-92 win in Memphis on Tuesday night, after totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds Monday night in a loss to Atlanta. In the two games, Gasol made 16 of 21 shots to raise his overall shooting percentage to .439.

“I just think people go through periods of slumps where you question things,” D’Antoni said of Gasol after Tuesday’s win. “Like I said, we were out of whack. Different things go on. But Pau’s an All-Star, he’s one of the best players in the league, he worked through it and he’s back to normal.”

Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Lakers, before Gasol’s resurgent play, engaged in exploratory talks with several teams but never got too far with any of the calls.

Among the teams they spoke with were the Rockets, sources say, but those conversations never got serious, even with Houston determined to trade disgruntled center Omer Asik before a self-imposed Thursday deadline.

Sources say the Lakers do have certified interest in Knicks center Tyson Chandler, but New York appears to have no interest in fielding offers for Chandler at this time, having just welcomed the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year back to the lineup after a fractured fibula sidelined Chandler for the past 20 games.

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported Saturday that the Lakers, facing a slew of injuries in the backcourt, made an inquiry about the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert, but sources say those talks were likewise merely exploratory.

The Lakers are still assessing their long-term plans and whether there’s a way to keep Gasol beyond this season, with the 33-year-old headed for unrestricted free agency in July. Sources say that team officials have communicated to Gasol in various ways that they remain interested in keeping him in L.A. beyond this season.

***

No. 4: Warriors surging, catching Spurs at perfect time – It certainly sounds good in theory, the Golden State Warriors finally catching their breath after a road-heavy start to this season and now catching the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs when they are on their heels a bit, and at Oracle Arena. The Spurs will be without Tony Parker (shin contusion). The Spurs, of course, have a way of destroying the best plans, as Matt Schwab of the Oakland Tribune points out:

The reigning Western Conference champions will return to Oracle Arena on Thursday night, playing on back-to-back nights on the road, without injured point guard Tony Parker (shin contusion).

But don’t try selling any softened Spurs scenario to Warriors coach Mark Jackson.

“With no Parker, it makes a difference, but they still find ways to execute and hurt you,” Jackson said. “Kory Joseph had success against us in the playoffs. Patty Mills can disrupt the game. He has a scoring mentality. They added (Marco) Belinelli, so they’ve got guys that know how to win ballgames.

“It’s still going to be a challenge for our defense and us overall.”

The Warriors got their mojo back in a 104-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, as David Lee became David Lee again with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and Andre Iguodala returned triumphantly from a 12-game absence after suffering a strained left hamstring. Klay Thompson helped limit Eric Gordon to five points on 1-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes, employing what Jackson called “elite defense.”

Moreover, Stephen Curry continued his electrifying run with 28 points and 12 assists. The pieces all fit together, just as they did during an 8-3 start to the season before Iguodala went down.

“Really good team effort,” Iguodala said. “We moved the ball really well, but at the same time Steph was in a really good rhythm within the flow of the game. It was really helpful when we defend the ball like we do, and when we move the ball and he’s able to attack without having to force everything.

“Everything was just comfortable, in a rhythm. You could tell he was in his comfort zone, and the same with David Lee.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Clippers pop the Pelicans, thanks to DeAndre Jordan‘s stellar work … It wasn’t pretty, but the Knicks get it done in the clutch against the Bucks … Kyle Korver is working on more than just a 3-point streak, the Hawks’ shooter is doing it from all over … Pistons’ big man Andre Drummond has only scratched the surface of his immense potential.

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: A little friction in Miami (between LeBron James and Mario Chalmers) never hurts, especially when you finish the way the Heat did against the Pacers …


VIDEO: Passion is the name of the game in Miami, at least for LeBron and Chalmers

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).

Belinelli, Most Improved Shooter

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

The List

Biggest improvement, effective field-goal percentage

2012-13 2013-14
Player FGA eFG% FGA eFG% Diff.
Marco Belinelli 610 46.0% 140 63.6% 17.6%
Michael Beasley 766 43.4% 119 58.4% 15.0%
Andre Iguodala 879 50.2% 110 65.0% 14.8%
Jodie Meeks 530 50.2% 198 61.9% 11.7%
Wesley Matthews 808 54.0% 238 64.9% 10.9%
Tony Allen 638 44.8% 128 55.1% 10.3%
Jeremy Lin 897 49.0% 155 57.7% 8.7%
Spencer Hawes 811 48.3% 236 57.0% 8.7%
Markieff Morris 653 44.2% 196 52.0% 7.9%
Klay Thompson 1,205 50.9% 352 58.7% 7.8%

Minimum 500 FGA in 2012-13 and 100 FGA in 2013-14
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

It’s interesting how a different team can make a player better. The top two guys on this list went from bottom-10 offensive teams last season to top-10 offensive teams this season. Marco Belinelli went from the Rose-less Bulls to the Spurs, while Michael Beasley went from the Suns to the Heat. Andre Iguodala was part of a top-five offense last season, but the Warriors certainly space the floor a lot better than the Nuggets did.

Speaking of floor spacing, Belinelli is shooting a ridiculous 30-for-53 (57 percent) from 3-point range after going 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s win in Toronto. He’s also shooting 51 percent from inside the arc.

Is it a product of the system? Do Tony Parker‘s pick-and-roll brilliance and the Spurs’ ball movement produce more open shots for Belinelli?

First of all, only 54 of Belinelli’s 140 shots have come with Parker on the floor. He actually has shot better with Parker on the bench. He’s played more minutes with Patty Mills as his point guard and has been assisted 22 times by Manu Ginobili. Mills’ improvement, Ginobili’s resurrection and Belinelli’s shooting are big reasons why the Spurs are 16-4 despite an underperforming starting lineup.

According to SportVU, 61 percent of Belinelli’s shots have been uncontested* this season, a jump from 56 percent last season. But the jump is all in his 2-point attempts. In the 20 Bulls games that were tracked by SportVU last season, none of Belinelli’s 47 2-point attempts were uncontested. This season, 42 of his 87 2-point attempts have been uncontested.

*Uncontested: The nearest defender is at least four feet away.

Both years, most of his 3-point attempts (87 percent last season and 83 percent this season) have been uncontested. But he’s shooting them much better with the Spurs. He’s also 6-for-9 on contested threes this year.

So it’s very possible that this is just a fluky start to the season for Belinelli. Or maybe there’s something in the Riverwalk water.

There is one more aspect to Belinelli’s shooting that SportVU can clue us in on: whether he’s shooting more off the catch or off the dribble.

In games tracked by SportVU last season, 60 percent of Belinelli’s shots were catch-and-shoot. This season, that number is up to 75 percent. But again, he’s shooting much better on those catch-and-shoot jumpers this year.

While the Spurs run the most beautiful offense in the league and that offense certainly makes players look better than they would elsewhere, it’s hard to believe that Belinelli’s shooting numbers are very sustainable.

The Video

Here’s video of Belinelli’s six 3-point attempts against the Rockets on Nov. 30. One was a half-court heave, three were wide-open looks on feeds from Ginobili, one was a semi-heat-check, and the last was a rushed shot with the Spurs down four in the closing seconds. If you’re a Spurs fan, you have to love the way Ginobili has been playing.

And if you really like your meatballs spicy, here are all 30 of Belinelli’s made 3-pointers this season.

The bottom of the list

Kosta Koufos is the anti-Belinelli, with a regression of 13.6 percent. That mark edges out Kevin Garnett (-12.7 percent), Jerryd Bayless (-11.4 percent), Patrick Patterson (-10.6 percent) and Tyreke Evans (-9.4 percent). Koufos had an effective field-goal percentage of 58.1 percent on 508 shots with Denver last season and is at 44.5 percent on 146 shots with Memphis this season.

Trivia question

To qualify for the above list, you had to have attempted at least 500 shots last season. There are five players who had at least 500 field-goal attempts last season and have not played a game this season. Four of them are on rosters and are injured: Carlos Delfino, Danilo Gallinari, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. Can you name the fifth?

Random notes

  • Chris Paul has 84 assists to Blake Griffin this season and no other combination has nearly that number. Next on the list of teammate-to-teammate assists is Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who have hooked up for 62 of Horford’s buckets.
  • Paul, Griffin and the Clippers have the No. 1 home offense, scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 10 home games. But they have just the 17th best road offense, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 12 road games. Their differential of 10.3 isn’t the biggest in the league. That belongs to the Mavs, who have scored 10.9 more points per 100 possessions at home than they have on the road.
  • The biggest defensive differential belongs to the Rockets, who have allowed 14.9 fewer points per 100 possessions at home. Houston ranks third defensively at home and 28th on the road. The good news is that they have the No. 1 road offense.
  • Deron Williams returned to the Nets’ lineup against Boston on Tuesday and Brooklyn played its best offensive game of the season, scoring about 116 points per 100 possessions against what was a top-10 defense. Point guards are important.

Trivia answer

Shannon Brown, who attempted 571 shots for the Suns last season. He was sent to the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and was waived before the season.

Blogtable: Adrift In Golden State

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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.


Down with divisions | Missing in Golden State | Offseason hits and misses



VIDEO: DubMix Vol. 3 — Warriors highlights from early in the season

Golden State is looking … suspect. Is something missing (besides Iggy)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHome games. Only eight of their 22 games have been played in Oakland and they’re 6-2 there. Otherwise, the Warriors have been living out of suitcases and not living all that well. Their stats are worse almost across the board on the road, including a scoring differential that plummets from 8.1 per game at home to just 0.3. The reward, of course, is a schedule imbalance in the other direction going forward. Golden State fans should remain calm and enjoy the fireworks.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: We all probably expected to see a drop-off in the Warriors defense with Andre Iguodala out of the lineup.  But they might actually be missing him more on offense.  Harrison Barnes is scoring 14 points a game since he moved into the starting lineup, but has not fit as comfortably or effectively with Stephen Curry.  The Golden State offense is down roughly 18 points a game from the Iggy-Curry combo.  In short, yes, they miss Iggy.

Andre Iguodala

Andre Iguodala may miss another 2-4 weeks with a strained hamstring (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well, defense, and that goes back to Iguodala. The Warriors allowed the Bobcats to score 115 points the other night. That’s utterly ridiculous. Let them get Iggy back, and some other players, too, get a rotation set and see how things go. This team will be dangerous.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe 2012-13 bench is missing. Taking care of the ball is missing. The absence of Andre Iguodala is big because it impacts the depth that was already a question mark going into the season, because he was being counted on to play more than one position and because Curry was missing part of the time as well. The Warriors overcame early injury adversity last season and then again in the playoffs largely because of Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli. They don’t have any of them now, with Ezeli sidelined by a knee injury that is expected to cost him the first half of 2013-14, Jack in Cleveland and Landry in Sacramento. Marreese Speights was signed to replace Landry and (for a while) Ezeli, but he has not played well. Toney Douglas and Iguodala were supposed to play backup point guard, but they have been hurt. Meanwhile, the Warriors are still challenging for most turnovers in the league. That’s a problem even for a team with so many offensive threats.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: First, yeah, they’re missing Iguodala. And they were missing Curry for a few games before Iguodala got hurt. But they’re also missing additional depth beyond their big six. Their on-off-court numbers show that they’re pretty awful whenever Curry or Klay Thompson step off the floor. I understand the idea of using Iguodala as the back-up point guard, but they still need another guard to help the second-unit offense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThey lose one game to a Charlotte team I predicted in the preseason would an upstart and now my Western Conference pick is all of a sudden “suspect.” Seriously? Does every supposed contender get whacked like this after a surprising stumble a mere 22 games into the season? I would remind you all that if my Warriors (yes, my Warriors … it worked with the Hang Time Grizzlies and it’s going to work again here) were in the Eastern Conference they’d be a top-three seed in the playoff chase right now. Sure, they’ve stumbled a bit here early but they are fine. They are in good shape right now and we all know that they have the potential to do so much more once the injuries subside. Suspect, huh?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogThey’re missing the element of surprise. Last season the Warriors found their groove when injuries struck and they went small/uptempo and started running people out of the gym. This season, they have targets on their backs, and opponents not only know what they’re in for, but they want to make a statement against the up-and-coming team. Also, we can’t discount the absence of Iguodala. Adding Andre was supposed to add versatility and make the Warriors even more potent. Not having him the lineup, to me at least, makes it still to early to pass any judgments on the Warriors this season.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The Warriors aren’t that bad, their expectations are just higher. Iggy is missed, of course, and losing Curry for a few games didn’t help matters either. They are a team that lives and dies on the jump shot, and thus suffer when the magical shooting touch abandons them. Golden State needs a backup weapon to strengthen their identity, toughen up on the defensive end, and turn some of those closer losses into wins before they can start living up to their high expectations again.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: The Warriors shoot too many jumpers. Their offense relies on 3-pointers, which means they get to the free-throw line too infrequently (14 a game). Secondly, if you want to play a fast-paced brand of basketball, you have to grab more rebounds.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: There’s definitely something wrong with the Warriors. They’re 12-10, the’ve lost 2 of their last 3 and they’re struggling defensively, having allowed more than 100 points in 9 of their last 10 games. It’s early in the season and coach Mark Jackson will eventually figure out. Injuries to Iguodala and Steph Curry have definitely been a problem, but the team is not responding the way everybody was expecting. Probably because they’re not a surprise anymore, as they were last season, and teams have found a better way to stop them. Since their offense is still there (103 points per game, 46.9 percent from the field and a league-best 41.7 percent from 3) they need to improve defensively.

Spurs’ Bench Propelling Hot Start


VIDEO: Spurs bench players Marco Belinelli and Matt Bonner connect for a nice play

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Spurs’ starting lineup was a big part of their defensive improvement last season. It was the best defensive lineup in the league and outscored its opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions in its 364 minutes.

This season, that same starting lineup hasn’t been too good It’s been pretty bad offensively (with Tim Duncan shooting less than 40 percent) and has actually been outscored by four points in 99 minutes. Yet the Spurs are 13-1 and rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, because they have the best bench in the league right now.

While the Spurs’ starters have basically broke even, all other San Antonio lineups have outscored their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions, playing great on both ends of the floor.

Spurs efficiency

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starters 10 99 95.8 93.5 92.7 +0.8 -4
Other lineups 14 572 97.2 108.3 92.2 +16.1 +173
Total 14 671 97.0 106.1 92.3 +13.9 +169

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

There are two aspects to having a great bench, and neither have to do with how many points the players off the bench score. You just have to go back to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls for an example of a great bench that didn’t score a lot of points. That group built on leads because they were great defensively.

Building on leads (or decreasing deficits) is obviously the most important trait of a good bench. But keeping your starters fresh is also critical (and obviously related to how well you build leads). Through Tuesday, every player on the Spurs is averaging less than 30 minutes a game and the five starters have played just 52 percent of the teams total minutes. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the season from a roster.

No other contender in the Western Conference has had the bench success that the Spurs’ “Foreign Legion” crew has had, but some have done well with their reserve minutes.

Note: Before the season started, six West teams would have been considered as “contenders.” Portland has been added to this group, because they’re off to such a hot start and also because their bench was their primary issue last season.

Efficiency from lineups other than starters

Team GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Golden State 15 532 98.3 97.8 97.2 +0.6 -1
Houston 15 665 100.4 106.4 101.5 +4.9 +36
L.A. Clippers 15 448 100.4 107.1 105.9 +1.2 +10
Memphis 14 513 91.8 99.4 104.0 -4.6 -47
Oklahoma City 12 483 99.6 106.0 96.1 +9.9 +81
Portland 15 442 97.1 106.9 101.6 +5.2 +64

Note: This includes lineups with 1-4 starters on the floor. It also includes lineups that started games when regular starters weren’t healthy or before a coach (Kevin McHale) made a lineup change.

Each team is its own case. Some have had their starters healthy for every game, some have not, and one – Houston – has already made a major change to its starting lineup.

Golden State

The Warriors’ starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – has been ridiculously good offensively, scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions in 192 minutes together. Combine that with solid defensive numbers and they’ve been the league’s best lineup (minimum 75 minutes) thus far.

Bench units (which include lineups that have started games that Curry and Iguodala have missed) have been strong defensively, but weak offensively. When Curry has been off the floor, the Dubs have scored an ugly 87.5 points per 100 possessions.

Breaking even will do when your starting lineup is so good, and the Warriors are in good shape if they’re healthy. But it’s clear that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry will be missed if injuries keep popping up.

Houston

The Rockets moved Terrence Jones into the starting lineup just seven games ago and have been without James Harden in three games since then, so their optimal starting lineup has played just 69 minutes together and their numbers above include lineups that have started 11 of their 15 games. That set includes lineups with both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik that we know were bad offensively.

So it’s difficult to gather much from these numbers. We do know that the new starting group, with Patrick Beverley and Harden in the backcourt, has been terrific so far. And we do know that the Rockets have been strong defensively – allowing just 95.7 points per 100 possessions – with Asik on the floor without Howard. So that’s a good sign for their bench … at least until Asik gets traded.

L.A. Clippers

As we all expected, the Clippers’ starting lineup has been great, especially offensively. It currently ranks as the fifth best lineup in the league. But the five starters have played over 68 percent of the team’s minutes, the second highest mark among the seven teams we’re looking at here.

Last season, when the Clippers had a great defensive second unit, that number was 51 percent. This season, they’re suffering on both ends of the floor when they go to their bench and though their starters have been solid on defense, they currently rank as a bottom 10 defensive team.

A healthy Matt Barnes will help, but a defensive big off the bench is needed. Lamar Odom was exactly that for them last season and you can understand why the Clips are monitoring his progress as he works his way back into shape.

Memphis

The Grizzlies’ starters weren’t what they were last season, when they outscored their opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions after the Rudy Gay trade. This season, they were just a plus-0.8 in 169 minutes together. But losing Marc Gasol (out indefinitely with a sprained MCL) is obviously a huge blow.

The new starting group (with Kosta Koufos in Gasol’s place) was an encouraging plus-12 in 33 minutes against the Spurs and Rockets. But the impact of Gasol’s injury might be felt most in the bench units, which have been poor already. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter, two guys who are supposed to bring offense off the bench, have shot a combined 32 percent.

Oklahoma City

We thought that, in the wake of Kevin Martin‘s departure, bench production was going to be a problem for the Thunder. But OKC’s bench units have been terrific, ranking second to only the Spurs in terms of NetRtg. The Thunder have outscored their opponents by an amazing 17.7 points per 100 possessions with Reggie Jackson on the floor.

The issue with the Thunder is the starting lineup, which has been outscored by 12.4 points per 100 possessions in its 97 minutes. Of the 27 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together this season, that ranks 25th, ahead only the original starting lineups of the Kings and Jazz. In those situations, both coaches have already made changes.

Scott Brooks will surely have more patience with his group, which was excellent (plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions) last season. The starting group has basically been bad in three games (minus-31 against the Pistons, Wizards and Nuggets) and OK in three games (plus-7 against the Suns, Mavs and Clippers). And the success of the bench units has far outweighed the starters’ struggles. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Portland

Last season, the Blazers’ “other lineups” got outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. No team suffered more offensively when a particular player stepped off the floor than Portland did when Damian Lillard sat down. So the bench, along with better defense from their center position, was the focus of their summer moves.

So far, so good, as the Blazers’ bench units have basically turned that number around, outscoring their opponents by that same 5.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ve scored a solid 103.5 points per 100 possessions when Lillard has sat, and he doesn’t have to lead the league in minutes this year.

The issue is that those bench units still include a lot of minutes from the starters. Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez account for more than 72 percent of the team’s total minutes. It’s obviously a younger group, but compare that with the 52 percent the Spurs’ starters account for.