Posts Tagged ‘Lance Stephenson’

Blogtable: Slipping (already) in the 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: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Which Eastern Conference team (discounting Cleveland) is not nearly as good as you thought it might be at this point of the season?

Charlotte's Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford
(Kent Smith/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI expected more out of Charlotte than a 4-7 start and, especially, its porous defense so far (106.2 defensive rating, 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage). Coach Steve Clifford‘s team has to clamp down better than that. Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming and Michael Kidd Gilchrist hasn’t been healthy, but a 3-3 start fizzled when the Hornets headed West. Losing to the Lakers? That’s so 2009-10. The schedule softens up a bit for the next three, then rematches at home loom with Portland and Golden State. The Hornets’ big boss would make sure to clean those up if he still were playing, so let’s see if he can inspire his crew.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Maybe they should have kept that Bobcats name in Charlotte. Except for that one wild game-winning shot, Lance Stephenson has not provided an upgrade and the defense has fallen off badly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Everyone is pretty much where I thought they’d be. If I had to make picks, I’d say the Knicks and Hornets are slightly under, but not enough to qualify as “not nearly as good” as I figured. I had both around .500 (Charlotte) or a few games under and making the playoffs (New York). The danger sign for the Hornets now is they’re starting to have a lot of blowout losses. That’s a very bad look.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I realize they’re on their fourth coach in three years and just returned from a trip out West but is this really what the Nets have become, a hum-drum team — in the East, no less? They’ve been called out by Joe Johnson, who hasn’t whined since he was spanked to life at birth, and also Lionel Hollins. The coach questioned their toughness which could’ve been a swipe at Brook Lopez (who at this stage of his career isn’t going to morph into a young Kevin Garnett) and their identity, or lack of one. All told, the Nets aren’t dropping any hints of being a contender, now that Deron Williams is no longer a top-5 point guard, and what you have is the increased likelihood of this being the Same Old Nets.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCharlotte’s had a disappointing start. The former Bobcats have two new starters and have played one of the East’s tougher schedules thus far, but they’ve been just average defensively and much worse offensively, with losses to both the Knicks and Lakers. Brooklyn has also had some bad results, but also has two new starters and doesn’t have the system continuity that the Hornets do. This team had a better start last year, in Steve Clifford’s first season as a head coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based strictly on potential, I expected the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards to sit at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference this season. And for the most part, they have played their respective roles this season. The wild card team in that top group was supposed to be Charlotte. But they’ve struggled with the adjustment to new expectations this season. They have not looked like the team I thought they would with Lance Stephenson playing alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach, so I’m sure they’ll figure the chemistry out as the season goes on. But I expected them to get off to a much better start than what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know what to make of Lance Stephenson’s impact on the Hornets. He’s their leader in rebounds and assists, which is impressive; and he’s been scoring more efficiently in recent games. But between his addition and the subtraction of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte looks less cohesive and more fragile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCharlotte. Sure, we knew there would be some growing pains incorporating Lance Stephenson into the offense, but they’re 4-7 (and one of those wins came on a miracle buzzer-beater from Stephenson). What’s more surprising to me is that after being so good defensively last season, this year the Hornets are in the bottom half of the League in defensive rating. The rebranding campaign has been great, but if they keep playing like the Bobcats of old, I’m not sure that it’s going to matter all that much.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I was hoping Brooklyn would have a more positive/winning record in the first month.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I had high expectation on the Charlotte Hornets. I thought Lance Stephenson would be the missing puzzle piece to be top 5 in the East. But they still have to figure out how everything works out together. Marvin Williams is not the Marvin Williams we knew from Utah and the departure of Josh McRoberts has hurt. But it’s still early in the season and I’m sure the Hornets will get the turnaround soon. Lance is not the offensive weapon I’ve expected, but he helps with his all-around game. So, give them some time. The Hornets will buzz!

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: The Hornets have played below expectations so far given what they were able to create last season. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with Lance Stephenson being the answer to their offensive problems, I still think his game lacks consistency and he has a propensity to do inefficient things (shooting too many long 2s and whacky contested shots off the dribble). Still, this team won 43 games last season, owned a top-5 defense, committed the fewest turnovers, and on paper, improved in the offseason. Plus we were expecting the overall upward curve of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It might sound simple but I can’t see this team creating an efficient offense given the way the roster stands currently. A whopping six players are shooting below 40 percent and they’re all guards who were supposed to propel them. They need shooters!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The Pistons! I expected more of them. They have a great front-line (Monroe, Drummond, Smith) and all the pieces of the puzzle to find their way to the postseason. But they are playing terrible on the road and have won only 3 out of 11 games. Not the best start for a team that regrouped this summer and tried to turn a brand new page.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: To be honest, beyond the Bulls and the Cavs, there are no Eastern Conference teams that I had expected to be elite anyways, just ‘good’ in relative to other Eastern squads. With that said, I was expecting better things from Charlotte. The Hornets have started 5-7 – bottom of their division — and if you take away a couple of game-winning shots, they’d be 3-7 right now. I was expecting that the core of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Big Al would be able to help this team take a small step forwards, but some early teething troubles have them taking a step back. It will take some ironing out in the backcourt power-struggle between Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to get the wheels rolling.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Brooklyn Nets, no doubt about it.They hired a new coach, and the comeback of Brook Lopez is a big help, but they need some time to come together. Obviously, what made them lose in past games is the poor defense (107.5 at DRtg). When Brook steps into the paint, opponents just shoot a sky high percentage in the field (52.6% when he’s on the court). However, their roster is still loaded, and I think coach Hollins,who is good at coaching big man, will figure out how to play defense when their most dominating big man is on the floor. Maybe they could make a run after the All-Star weekend.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The obvious answer would be the Knicks, but I thought they were not a playoff team, so I’m going to say the Hornets. I thought they could be up there with the Raptors and the Wizards, battling for the third spot in the Conference behind Cleveland and Chicago. But Lance Stephenson is not even near to the All-Star player he was last year with the Pacers. And the Hornets are struggling, with a 4-7 record, a defense that allows more than 100 ppg and a team still looking for its identity.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA

The Pacers’ plunge continues

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert leaves game early with bone bruise in Pacers’ loss to Wizards

The Pacers play the Jazz on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and it’s interesting that it’s Utah, because the last time these teams met, all was well with Indy.

It was last March 2 when the Pacers won 94-91. David West had a monster game with 25 points. Paul George added 21. Lance Stephenson sank a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to hold off the pesky Jazz. And the Pacers won for the fifth straight time and raised their record to 46-13, best in the East and top three in the NBA.

But life hasn’t quite been the same since for the Pacers.

What we’re witnessing is one of the most dreadful crashes of a contender in the last decade. So many things have happened, and all of them bad. Injuries, poor play, more injuries, defections and, well, the avalanche that buried the Pacers since last March is still building and adding layers.

What if you were told that, eight months later, the retooling Jazz would be the favorite and might even have the better long-term nucleus? Yep, I didn’t think so, either. But the Pacers are 1-6, their worst start since 1993-94 and could be without Roy Hibbert (bone bruise) for a spell, adding more misery to their misery.

The Pacers are probably shaking their heads and still wondering what happened, like the rest of us. They collapsed in the spring, losing four straight after that win over Utah, and closed out the regular season losing 13 of their last 23. It was an astonishing about-face for a team that had a realistic chance to make LeBron James and the Heat sweat. They had to fight off two elimination games to beat the Hawks in the first round, had to go six games against the Wizards and then went out meekly in the East finals against the Heat. All along, their play was shoddy and some of their key players slumped badly, none more than Hibbert, who found himself benched in the playoffs.

And that was the good stretch. What followed over the summer was worse: Losing Stephenson to free agency and George to a gruesome leg injury for perhaps most if not all of this season.

It’s a good thing coach Frank Vogel received a contract extension because he’ll earn it. You hardly recognize the team that Indiana is trotting out on the floor these days. The Pacers have no choice but give extended minutes to players who ordinarily would serve lesser roles. That’s why Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill and Donald Sloan are seeing 31 or more minutes a game. They weren’t even in the rotation last March.

Eventually the Pacers will get West back from a bad ankle, and George might suit up earlier than anyone anticipated, and Hibbert’s injury isn’t serious. And yet they still could struggle to recover from a lousy start and make the playoffs, even in the East. That’s why the Pacers could be sellers at the trade deadline and dangle West and maybe even Hibbert.

Until then, we get Pacers vs. Jazz, Monday night, and my how the world has changed.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers struggling to live up to the hype | Rockets will be short-handed in battle of unbeatens | The “dark side” of the triangle

No. 1: Clippers struggling to live up to the hype — Don’t believe the hype, especially when it’s self-generated. The Los Angeles Clippers are finding that out the hard way this season, struggling early on to play up to expectations (both internally and externally) that had many folks picking them as the favorite to win the Western Conference and perhaps the NBA title. We’re barely two weeks into this NBA season, but it’s clear they are not playing at a level that was expected of them. Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times breaks it down in advance of the Clippers’ afternoon tussle with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Everyone, it seems, is playing pop psychologist, diagnosing the problems of a team widely expected to contend for the Western Conference title that has gotten off to an underwhelming start.

With the Lakers winless through the season’s first five games, the Clippers could color Los Angeles red and blue beyond their “BE RELENTLESS” ads adorning buildings and billboards. It hasn’t happened.

“This is a chance for the Clippers to take over the city and they don’t want it,” Hall of Fame shooting guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said Friday in a phone interview. “You should have people in the barber shop buzzing about the Clippers. As opposed to talking about their effort, they should be saying, ‘Did you see that play?'”

A more common refrain after the season’s first week: Oy vey.

The Clippers are 3-2 but were blown out by Golden State and lost at home to a Sacramento team that won only 28 games last season. They have been outrebounded in every game and couldn’t hold double-digit leads in four games.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers called his players “soft” after their 17-point loss to the Warriors and didn’t seem impressed by a team meeting afterward.

“When I read about team meetings in the league, I’m thinking, ‘I hope we play them next,'” Rivers said Friday. “We all know we didn’t play hard. I don’t think I need a team meeting for that.”

One observer who watched the Warriors’ demolition of the Clippers has remained Zen about the team’s prospects.

“I think everybody in Clipperland has to do the Aaron Rodgers thing right now,” ESPN analyst and former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to the Green Bay Packers quarterback who told fans to loosen up amid a slow start. “Relax. Let it play out. If at 20 games, you get to a quarter of the year and there’s issues, that’s when I think you start evaluating more so than after five games.”

Van Gundy said what’s more important than the Clippers’ spotty play is what they do next. They play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.

It’s a chance to start resembling the team the Clippers want to be. Of course, even a blowout victory wouldn’t end their concerns.

“It’s not like we go out against Portland, have a good game and we’re like, ‘Well, thank God that’s over,'” Griffin said. “We’ve just got to stay with it and keep working on the things we have to work on.”


VIDEO: Hornets guard Lance Stephenson sinks the game winner against the Hawks

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Davis, Asik domiate vs. Magic | Howard says he wasn’t scared of Kobe | Lakers’ Randle suffers broken right leg | D-Will driven to prove himself | MJ personally recruited Stephenson to Hornets

No. 1: Asik, Davis dominate in first game together — Don’t tell the New Orleans Pelicans they weren’t supposed to be a storyline on the first night of the season. While most NBA fans had their eyes focused on the ring celebration in San Antonio and the return of Kobe Bryant in L.A. later that night, Anthony Davis and his cohorts quietly put on a show in the Big Easy last night. Davis flirted with a triple-double (coming up a block short of it), thriving as new center Omer Asik did some dirty work in the paint. Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune details how Asik’s play spurred the Pelicans to an impressive debut:

This summer when the New Orleans Pelicans set out to do some free-agent shopping, their top priority was finding an adequate center, a big man who could rebound, defend and score when needed.

The spent quite a bit but landed their man in pulling off a trade with the Houston Rockets for Omer Asik.

On Tuesday night, Asik’s acquisition certainly seemed like a good deal.

Playing in his first game as a Pelican, Asik helped the Pelicans to a 101-84 win by scoring 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking five shots.

“That’s what I saw in him when he was in Chicago (2010-2012),” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “He was only playing less than half the game, but when he came into the game there defense went through the roof. There were times where he would finish just because he was so good on that end. I want him to focus more on finishing around the basket, scoring a little bit.”

Asik was especially effective in the first-half, when he played 18 minutes and scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and two blocks.

With Asik, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson dominating the boards, the Pelicans out-rebounded the Magic 62-56. But even more impressive, they had a 26-16 edge on the offensive glass.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis flirts with a triple-double in the Pelicans’ season-opening win

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 24


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No matter what, Nash’s legacy is safe | Stephenson on Pacers: ‘I wanted to be there’  | Smith struggling to grasp triangle | Report: Sixers working to land Nets’ Teague

No. 1: Nash’s legacy safe, even if his career is over — Fans of the NBA (and standout offensive play from point guards) are no doubt upset this morning after last night’s news broke that former two-time MVP Steve Nash‘s 2014-15 season is done even before it began. Lingering issues with various back injuries have sidelined the L.A. Lakers point guard for this season and, based on the buzz around the NBA, perhaps his career. If this is indeed the last we’ve seen of Nash, though, his last few injury-prone seasons in Lakerland won’t tarnish the Hall of Fame legacy he’s crafted, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

This changes nothing, and this changes everything.

Steve Nash was locked in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, one of the stars of a generation and one of the standout point guards of any era. So, the agonizing slow leak into retirement — after Thursday’s announcement of Nash missing the entire 2014-15 season with a nerve issue — of what will become three consecutive seasons with serious injuries will not dent his legacy. He got old, not bad.

But what an insightful few years it was. We didn’t get to see Nash close to his best in L.A., what the Lakers hoped for when they sent a couple first-round picks, including the choice that is top-five protected in 2015, and a couple seconds to Phoenix in July 2012, but it was the best of Nash in some ways. The passion to play, the determination to work back instead of taking early retirement and a golden parachute — it was as telling in a strange way as any of the countless accomplishments on the court.

He was always faking people out like that. Nash didn’t have much of a future coming out of high school in the charming Vancouver suburb of Victoria, and then he turned one NCAA Division I scholarship offer, to Santa Clara, into being drafted in the first round and a career that would have reached Season 19 in 2014-15. He didn’t have the athleticism to hang with the speed point guards, and then he surgically steered the Phoenix jet offense of the Seven Seconds Or Less Days, running everyone else into the ground as it turned out. Now, at what by every indication is the end, although the Lakers have only said he is done for the season, Nash discovered a new way to impress.

And if anything, Nash was underrated on offense — which is saying something considering the praise he earned. But to trigger one of the game’s lethal pick-and-roll games (particularly with superb finisher Amar’e Stoudemire) and also succeed in the high-octane offenses of coaches Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry as the Suns reached the Western Conference finals is a note few point guards can reach. He was never a food defender who could get in the conversation with, say, John Stockton or Gary Payton as all-time great two-way point guards. But Nash with the ball was still a clinic.

That’s Nash’s direct impact. His final legacy, though, won’t be known for years, maybe even for a decade.


VIDEO: Steve Nash will not play for the L.A. Lakers in 2014-15

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Opportunity knocks for Teague, Hawks


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew believes Jeff Teague and the Hawks are poised for big things this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.

He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.

He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.

Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.

I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …

NBA.com:  The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?

Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back  and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.

NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?

Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands. (more…)

Pacers need Hill to attack leading role

DALLAS – It remains a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, yet it could have been just a bit awkward for Indiana Pacers guard George Hill to watch his old team pulverize the one team his never could, and then see the player he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, celebrated as the Finals MVP.

Hill, however, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kawhi is a good friend of mine,” Hill said Sunday as the Pacers’ preseason trek brought them to Dallas. “I’m happy for his success. I’m happy for the Spurs’ success. If we’re not winning, you know, I root for them. I’m still good friends with everyone in that organization and with everyone on that team. All of them are like my brothers.”

Which is as good a segue as any when talking about these Pacers, because they’re using training camp to try to bond like brothers following a summer — and really starting from the second half of last season — of tumult. Shooting guard and the NBA’s surprising triple-double leader, Lance Stephenson, departed for Charlotte as a free agent. All-Star forward Paul George, the emerging star who allowed the Pacers to deal Leonard for point guard help in 2011, emotionally shook the franchise, and the league, when he broke his leg during the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas.

And just like that, the Pacers are a much different team, and one that will be asking Hill to bring a much different game than he really ever has, either with the Spurs where he was mostly a reserve surrounded by the Big Three, or in Indiana, where its two no-longer-available wings were so often the point of attack.

“He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot.  So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”

Vogel compared it back to when Hill first arrived.

“Before Danny Granger got hurt and Paul George and Lance Stephenson exploded, our go-to guys were David West and George Hill, and it’s just going to return to that,” Vogel said. “And they did that on a team that in the lockout season won at a 50-win pace as the two late-game go-to guys.”

That team turned a 37-45 record in 2010-11 to 42-24 with Hill backing up Darren Collison before taking over as the starter late in the season. The Pacers advanced to the East semifinals. And maybe they can again this season in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

The reorganizing Heat and Pacers have been replaced by LeBron James‘ new team, the Cavaliers, and the Bulls as conference favorites. Washington, Toronto, Brooklyn and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets could all make some noise.

“Defense wins games, so as long as we continue to play defense the right way, I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to use our defense as our offense.”

Even so, there’s little doubt that Hill will need to boost his scoring and playmaking for the Pacers not to drop to the lower rungs of the playoff chase. Hill averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists while logging 32 minutes a game last season. He shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. He ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

“Obviously he’s going to have to play a bigger role for us. He’s got to be aggressive,” West said. “It’s going to be a different role and adjustment for him, but he’s going to work himself into it, get comfortable with it. The last couple of years we’ve attacked from the wings. He’s going to have to be the point of attack for us, to really look to take his game to another level.”

Hang Time Road Trip: Home Sweet Home!


VIDEO: The Lord of the Rings, Phil Jackson, joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

By Sekou Smith

HANGTIME HEADQUARTERS – The final tally was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,925 miles. give or take a hundred miles or so.

That’s the amount of road real estate we traveled during the Hang Time Road Trip, which ended early Saturday morning after a week of grinding from Cleveland through the upper tier of the Central Division and on to Philly, New York and finally to Tar Heel country in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We’re all home now. It’s back to normal, whatever that means after spending seven nights on a luxury bus with 11 grown men all trying to carve out their own space on a daily basis.

It would be impossible to boil our trip down to just a few words or video snippets, which is why the Hang Time Road Trip wrap-up special (Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV) will shine even more light on the maiden voyage for the Hang Time Podcast crew.

Between Lang Whitaker‘s daily updates on the All Ball blog and Rick Fox‘s work on social media, we tried to make sure you could follow us along every step of our journey. We began in Cleveland chasing LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers.

But that was only the beginning.

Chicago brought an in-depth conversation with Pau Gasol, not to mention Washington Wizards’ young stars John Wall and Bradley Beal making it onto the bus (not to mention an impromptu visit from Drew Gooden and a chance meeting with Scottie Pippen). We also made a visit to the Hyde Park Hair Salon, President Obama‘s home shop, so I could get cleaned up.

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VIDEO: Pau Gasol joins the Hang Time Podcast crew in Chicago

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Indianapolis saw Hall of Famer and Pacers boss Larry Bird brave the rain (for all of about 10 feet) to make his way onto the couch in the front of the bus, where we broke down what his team is facing this season and the intriguing situation he faces in trying to keep the Pacers among the NBA elite.

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VIDEO: Larry Bird joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

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Philadelphia gave us a chance to not only speak with Sixers CEO Scott O’Neal and Charlotte Hornets swingman Lance Stephenson, but also the ideal lunch date at cheese steak wizard Tony Luke‘s South Philly spot. You might have seen Lang trying to get his flip on in the kitchen.

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VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew chops it up with Lance Stephenson on the Hang Time Road Trip bus

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Our stop in New York included an unbelievable visit to Harlem and Marcus Samuelsson‘s famed Red Rooster restaurant, one of the hottest spots in the city with one of the best chefs on the planet. He jst happens to be a huge Knicks and NBA fan, which was the perfect appetizer for Thursday’s trip to the Knicks’ practice facility where we talked to both Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher on the bus.

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VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew at Tony Luke’s

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Wrapping things up in Rick’s old stomping grounds was the ideal ending for this trip. UNC coach Roy Williams gave us a guided tour of the pristine facilities in Chapel Hill and provided some context on our partner and his roots dating all the way back to his high school and college days on campus.

Again, the bits and pieces you can put together now only tell part of the story. A clearer picture will come Wednesday night when you tune into NBA TV (10 p.m. ET) and ride with us from start to finish on the Hang Time Road Trip.

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VIDEO: Knicks coach Derek Fisher joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford


VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA – The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.

20141010_improvement

Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically.

NBA.com spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense

NBA.com: Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?

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Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there.

NBA.com: Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in.

NBA.com: What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack.

NBA.com: Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.

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Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things.

NBA.com: Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J

NBA.com: But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?

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Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way.

NBA.com: Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future.

NBA.com: Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.

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Balance and priorities as a head coach

NBA.com: Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again.

NBA.com: Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never.

NBA.com: You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well.

NBA.com: How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense.

NBA.com: What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year.

NBA.com: In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany.

NBA.com: Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority.

NBA.com: So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

Hang Time Road Trip: Lance Being Lance

By Sekou Smith

PHILADELPHIA – By the time the Indiana Pacers’ tumultuous 2013-14 season had come to an end, the phrase “Lance Being Lance” had come to mean many things for Lance Stephenson, the mercurial shooting guard with loads of talent and a deep bag of tricks to work with on the court.

Fast forward to training camp this season and the Charlotte Hornets need Lance to be exactly who and what he is, one of the most versatile and competitive players in the NBA.

We caught up with Lance during our Philly stop on the Hang Time Road Trip and found out how the change of scenery, courtesy of his free agent decision to start fresh in Charlotte, is working out for him.


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew chops it up with Lance Stephenson on the Hang Time Road Trip bus

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.