Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Morris’

Plumlee brothers make their marks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee spikes an alley-oop pass

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Traded to Phoenix last July, center Miles Plumlee‘s had a closeup view of the inseparable bond the Suns’ twin brothers Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris have always shared.

Miles and Mason Plumlee, a rookie center-power forward with the Brooklyn Nets, each might stand 6-foot-10 and around 240 pounds, but these brothers are not twins. Their version of brotherly love growing up was more like the push-and-shove of a textbook sibling rivalry.

“It’s funny, we were so competitive growing up, we fought more than we got along most of the time,” Plumlee told NBA.com recently during a phone interview. “But basketball was the one thing that kind of kept us together and brought us together even when we weren’t on good terms with one another.”

Surely then they had grown so close through basketball during high school that making the decision to do it again at Duke, with Miles, 25, heading there first, followed the next year by Mason, 24, was always part of the Plumlee plan.

“Not at all,” Miles said. “I committed to Stanford and he was going to Duke, so for a whole year that wasn’t the plan until certain things transpired. My coach [Trent Johnson left for LSU] and Duke came into the picture. If you asked me a year before, I would have said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to play with Mason.

“We grew up and realized we don’t have to fight about everything and from then on we’ve been super-close, and it’s been fun to go on this journey with him.”

These days the brothers talk on the phone as often as best friends.

“We talked today,” Mason said, smiling, during the Nets’ recent trip through Dallas. “You spend a lot of time on the road, so just seeing what city he’s in, seeing what he’s up to. We’re very close.”

They’ve got plenty to talk about, too, as each is coming to the end of unsuspectingly successful seasons. Miles walked out of Indiana, traded with Gerald Green for Luis Scola after having spent 68 of 82 games his rookie season planted on the Pacers’ bench behind Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi. Mason, the 22nd overall pick by the Nets in June, figured to get much the same bench treatment on a veteran team and behind the likes of Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche and Brook Lopez. 

Both are carving out a place in the league. Miles, the 26th pick by the Pacers in 2012, stepped into the starting center position with the Suns, a team most saw as one that would be bringing up the rear in the Western Conference. He got off to a fast start, averaging a double-double by showcasing an evolved low-post game and running the floor in the Suns’ up-tempo attack, while dispelling any notion he’s little more than a physical, solely defensive-minded player.

“The big thing for me has always been my confidence and being a little more calm mentally on the court,” said Miles, a candidate with Green for Most Improved Player of the Year. “I’ve always kind of had the skills and the talent, I just hadn’t had a chance to get that confidence going. I [played] roles in college and I played on a lot of winning teams and I loved it, but it’s part of the reason people were surprised I was drafted as high as I was.

“I showed some of the coaches and GMs in the draft process I had more to my game than the general public probably perceives. I just built on that, and you play through the post a lot more in the NBA than at the college level and that helped me slow down and extend my game.”

With five games left, Miles is averaging 8.3 ppg, shooting 57.4 percent, and 8.0 rpg. Phoenix (46-31) is clinging to a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

“He got going early and often, so that kind of made me want to get going myself,” Mason said. “Once I saw him doing it, I’d tell him if he had a good game and we were about to play that team, the coaches would see it in scouting and I would say, ‘I can do what he does.’ So I’d try getting a little playing time out of that, and just knowing that if he could make it happen, I could make it happen.”

Mason has played in 64 games, aided by the early, season-ending injury to Lopez, and he had his 19-game streak in the Nets starting lineup snapped Saturday when Kevin Garnett made his return from injury. Moving to the bench didn’t bother Mason, who scored 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting with seven rebounds in a win over Philadelphia.

He’s averaging 6.8 ppg on 64.0 percent shooting, and 4.1 rpg in 17.4 mpg, and will be playing in the postseason with the rejuvenated Nets. He’s played a key role. In the last 20 games, Mason is averaging 7.9 ppg on 66.3 percent shooting and 5.8 rpg in 21.2 mpg, like Miles, showing he’s more than just a physical big man.

“I never thought that,” Mason said. “I don’t really put too much stock into other peoples’ opinions. I just kind of do my thing and keep it moving.”

And don’t look now but in a couple years, there could be a third Plumlee in the league. Marshall is a 7-foot, 260-pound center at Duke. He’ll be a junior next season.

“It would be crazy to play against Marshall because he’s always been so much younger than us,” Miles said. “I’ve never had to take him quite as seriously because even when we were at Duke during practice, I was like I’m going to laugh it off.

“I’d have to take him seriously, so it would be a lot of fun to have him in the league.”

Ah, brothers.

Numbers reveal four strong MIP candidates

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Kia Most Improved Player award is thought of as the most nebulous of the six major end-of-season awards and typically gets the widest range of votes. Last season, though Paul George finished with a vote total of more than twice that of any other player, 15 different players received at least one first-place vote and another 18 received at least one vote for second or third place.

But the award also lends itself to simple statistical analysis. It should be fairly simple to determine whose numbers have improved most from season to season.

If you want to get real simple, we can just compare the raw numbers, using the efficiency statistic.

Biggest increase, total efficiency

Player Season 2012-13 2013-14 Diff.
Kevin Love 6 372 2,060 1,688
Terrence Jones 2 147 1,048 901
Miles Plumlee 2 20 894 874
Andre Drummond 2 826 1,561 735
Andrew Bogut 9 418 1,103 685
Khris Middleton 2 167 836 669
Timofey Mozgov 4 174 837 663
Gerald Green 7 319 923 604
John Wall 4 949 1,511 562
James Anderson 4 180 740 560
DeAndre Jordan 6 1,079 1,638 559
Anthony Davis 2 1,167 1,705 538
Jordan Hill 5 275 810 535
Jeremy Lamb 2 48 579 531
Dirk Nowitzki 16 1,005 1,531 526
Jared Sullinger 2 454 975 521
Tony Wroten 2 84 601 517
Trevor Ariza 10 637 1,151 514
Reggie Jackson 3 465 955 490
Richard Jefferson 13 200 678 478

Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

At this point, the big question has to be asked: Should second-year players be considered for the Most Improved Player award? If not, we can eliminate several guys on the list above, though both Terrence Jones and Miles Plumlee – two starters on Western Conference playoff teams — feel like strong candidates. Only two of the top 10 in last year’s voting — Nikola Vucevic (4th) and Chandler Parsons (10th) — were second-year players.

There are also a handful of veterans on the list who missed large chunks of last season with injuries, though Kevin Love and Trevor Ariza are having the best seasons of their careers.

Timofey Mozgov and Gerald Green are interesting candidates, but were both out of their team’s rotations last season, so their improved raw numbers may also be about opportunity.

But Mozgov’s name comes up when we look at PIE improvement. PIE takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. So it adjusts for pace and there’s a team-success element to it, because if your opponent doesn’t score as many points or grab as many rebounds your individual number will be higher.

Biggest increase, PIE

2012-13 2013-14
Player Season MIN PIE MIN PIE Diff.
James Johnson 5 879 5.3% 836 11.5% 6.2%
DeMarcus Cousins 4 2,289 13.2% 1,978 18.3% 5.1%
Kevin Love 6 618 14.4% 2,438 19.4% 5.0%
Markieff Morris 3 1,837 7.5% 1,864 12.3% 4.8%
Lance Stephenson 4 2,278 8.8% 2,487 13.0% 4.2%
Kris Humphries 10 1,191 9.2% 1,272 13.3% 4.1%
Bismack Biyombo 3 2,186 6.3% 957 10.1% 3.8%
Kendall Marshall 2 702 5.8% 1,270 9.6% 3.8%
Draymond Green 2 1,061 5.1% 1,481 8.9% 3.8%
Timofey Mozgov 4 366 6.9% 1,479 10.5% 3.6%
Xavier Henry 4 625 3.9% 895 7.5% 3.6%
Patty Mills 5 656 8.2% 1,306 11.7% 3.4%
Marco Belinelli 7 1,882 7.0% 1,749 10.3% 3.3%
Avery Bradley 4 1,435 4.9% 1,602 8.1% 3.3%
Andrew Bogut 9 786 9.2% 1,661 12.5% 3.3%
Isaiah Thomas 3 2,121 10.6% 2,450 13.8% 3.2%
Anthony Davis 2 1,846 13.5% 2,248 16.6% 3.0%
Marcus Morris 3 1,524 6.7% 1,601 9.7% 3.0%
Brandon Knight 3 2,366 8.2% 2,051 11.2% 3.0%
Alec Burks 3 1,137 7.4% 1,909 10.4% 3.0%

Minimum 300 minutes in 2012-13 and 800 minutes in 2013-14

Love, Mozgov and Andrew Bogut are the only players on both lists. But Bogut had better seasons in Milwaukee and Love’s increase is just 1.0 percent over his third season in the league. Mozgov has taken a decent jump, but still isn’t a real impact player in the league.

Based on the above lists and deeper dives into the numbers, there are four non-second-year candidates that stand out.

Marco Belinelli, Spurs

Choosing between the Spurs’ two back-up guards is tough, because Patty Mills‘ play has been eye-opening. But Belinelli has had a bigger role on the league’s best team.

Belinelli’s points per game have increased from 9.6 season last season (with Chicago) only to 11.4 this year. And he averaged more than that (11.8) two seasons ago with New Orleans. But he’s having, by far, the best shooting and rebounding seasons of his career.

Among 168 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (51.9 percent last season, 70.2 percent this season) ranks second in improvement, behind only Love.

Among 139 players who have attempted at least 100 mid-range shots each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.9 percent, 44.0 percent) ranks sixth in improvement.

And among 126 players who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.7 percent, 43.7 percent) ranks fifth in improvement.

No other player is in the top 25 of all three lists, and only one (Markieff Morris) is in the top 10 of more than one. It certainly helps (quite a bit, one could argue) that Belinelli has gone from a bottom-10 offensive team last season to a top-10 offensive team this year. But he also ranks 10th in improved rebounding percentage among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

Boogie has seen a jump in both usage (USG%) and scoring efficiency (TS%). Though he’s still not a great shooter (his 49.3 effective field-goal percentage is below the league average), he has gone to the line a lot more than he ever has. He has also rebounded at a career-high rate.

Defensively, he’s not exactly Roy Hibbert or Kevin Garnett, and transition defense is a major problem. But the Kings have been almost six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Cousins on the floor. He’s a plus-62 for a team that’s 25-46.

Cousins’ teammate Isaiah Thomas seems like another good candidate and is 16th on the most-improved PIE list above. But his scoring effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage have barely budged (his 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage have gone down), and his numbers jump is mostly about an increased usage rate and a small jump in assist rate.

Markieff Morris, Suns

If you could vote for the Morris twins as one entity, that would be the clear favorite. You can’t, but Markieff (No. 11 in your programs) should be on the short list.

He’s been a much more efficient player this season, even though his usage rate has jumped quite a bit. And the Suns, who are an improved defensive team, have been better on that end of the floor with Markieff in the game.

As referenced above, he’s the ninth most improved mid-range shooter in the league and also ninth most improved in the restricted area. He’s played about the same number of minutes as he did last season and he’s gone to the line more than twice as many times.

With both Morris twins, Plumlee, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic all worthy of some consideration for Most Improved, it’s obvious that Jeff Hornacek should be in the running for Coach of the Year.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers

Like Cousins and Morris, Stephenson has seen a big jump in both usage rate and efficiency. But he’s also the most improved rebounder among 203 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons, with his rebounding percentage jumping from 7.5 percent to 11.4 percent (best among guards).

Stephenson still has some improving to do. He’s a below-average shooter from outside the paint and his turnover rate has jumped as he’s been asked to handle the ball more. But overall, he’s taken a step forward this season.

Pierce cares not about your hand in his face


VIDEO: Pierce’s big three seals Brooklyn’s win vs. Toronto

BROOKLYN – Nets coach Jason Kidd didn’t think Paul Pierce was going to play Monday night.

Pierce, dealing with an injured shoulder, played. He played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, and hit the biggest shot of the night, a 3-pointer that gave the Nets a three-point lead with 1:14 left and propelled them to a big win over the visiting Raptors.

It was a tough shot, because Kyle Lowry was in Pierce’s shirt with a hand in his face. But Pierce had to take it because the shot clock was about to expire.

And maybe it didn’t matter that Lowry was there, because, according to SportVU, Pierce has shot better on contested jumpers than uncontested jumpers. Among 92 players who have attempted at least 100 of each, only one — the Pelicans’ Brian Roberts — has a bigger discrepancy.

Players who have shot better on contested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Brian Roberts 82 213 38.5% 63 128 49.2% -10.7%
Paul Pierce 83 236 35.2% 62 151 41.1% -5.9%
Russell Westbrook 73 203 36.0% 57 138 41.3% -5.3%
Dirk Nowitzki 200 439 45.6% 210 431 48.7% -3.2%
LeBron James 140 370 37.8% 47 117 40.2% -2.3%
Marcus Morris 102 252 40.5% 61 143 42.7% -2.2%
Rudy Gay 87 223 39.0% 105 259 40.5% -1.5%
Evan Turner 107 288 37.2% 88 231 38.1% -0.9%
Rodney Stuckey 67 178 37.6% 55 145 37.9% -0.3%
Jamal Crawford 142 355 40.0% 143 356 40.2% -0.2%
James Harden 141 375 37.6% 69 183 37.7% -0.1%

Minimum 100 of each.
Contested = Any jump shot outside of 10 feet with a defender within four feet of the shooter.

Note: We’re looking at standard field goal percentage and not effective field goal percentage to simply see the effect on a player’s success rate.

That LeBron James has shot better on contested jumpers is more incentive for defenses to play off him on the perimeter, as the Spurs did (successfully, until Game 7) in The Finals.

The league has shot 5.4 percent better on uncontested jumpers this season. But a contest will affect some players more than others. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Roberts and Pierce is the Suns’ Goran Dragic

Players who have shot at least 10 percent better on uncontested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player Name FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Goran Dragic 145 279 52.0% 52 178 29.2% 22.8%
David West 142 288 49.3% 35 102 34.3% 15.0%
C.J. Miles 86 191 45.0% 36 118 30.5% 14.5%
Khris Middleton 148 302 49.0% 57 161 35.4% 13.6%
Jameer Nelson 118 312 37.8% 35 143 24.5% 13.3%
Kevin Love 201 473 42.5% 45 152 29.6% 12.9%
Bradley Beal 181 431 42.0% 78 263 29.7% 12.3%
Jerryd Bayless 91 217 41.9% 41 137 29.9% 12.0%
Terrence Ross 107 240 44.6% 59 181 32.6% 12.0%
Randy Foye 150 363 41.3% 39 132 29.5% 11.8%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 121 296 40.9% 30 103 29.1% 11.8%
Josh Smith 126 380 33.2% 28 129 21.7% 11.5%

For some of these guys, the difference is about how well they shoot when they’re left open. For some, it’s about how poorly they shoot when there’s a defender nearby. Josh Smith probably shouldn’t shoot jumpers at all.

Mild-Mannered Hornacek Infusing Suns With Just The Right Amount Of Fire


VIDEO: Jeff Hornacek talks about learning the ropes as an NBA coach

It took until the end of the second week of the season, five minutes into the second half of a game against the visiting Pelicans. It took five sloppy turnovers in the space of just three infuriating minutes.

It was, in fact, all  Jeff Hornacek could take. As he signaled for a timeout to apply a tourniquet, he whirled, raised an exasperated fist and slammed it down hard on the court side press table.

“Oh yeah,” said guard Eric Bledsoe as he thought back to the moment. “That got our attention. That was the first time I had ever seen him get that mad. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, he does have that in him.’ “

It was one of the questions that loomed from the time the 50-year-old Hornacek took over as the Suns coach in May following Phoenix’s 25-win season of 2012-13, the fewest wins in franchise history since the expansion season (1968-69). Was Hornacek simply too nice of a guy to do the heavy lifting required by the job?

“You can see where people might get that impression from the outside,” said small forward P.J. Tucker. “Because for the most part he’s always the same. He doesn’t have those emotional swings that you see from a lot of coaches. I know you hear a lot of coaches say they don’t intend to be that way. Then you watch them and see them losing it.

“From the first day that he got together with this team, all Jeff has been focused on is getting us to play with emotion, play hard, play aggressive. He channels his energy into us.”

“It important that the coach can stay calm, especially on a young team like this one,” said guard Goran Dragic. “When players are going through bad minutes on the floor, you need someone that can keep his confidence. It allows you to move forward. I will say that he is a nice guy as long as you don’t take advantage of him. If you do, he can bring you back to the ground.”

It was hardly the ideal situation to have your coaching baptism. After the misery of last season, the Suns went into an almost total rebuilding mode, purging the roster of most of their veteran players. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal and Wesley Johnson were moved over the summer. Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown were traded to the Wizards just before the season opener.

So who was left? Veterans Dragic and Channing Frye to mix with Bledsoe, Tucker, Marcus and Markieff Morris and a No. 1 draft choice in Alex Len (who needed ankle surgery and has played just token minutes in four games). It was a roster picked by most experts to finish rock bottom in the rugged Western Conference and Las Vegas oddsmakers posted the over-under on Suns wins for the season at 21.5. The Suns and their coach getting his first crack at being the man in charge could have been offended.

“No,” Hornacek said. “Obviously this team won 25 games last year. We traded away a lot of our veteran guys who helped them win games last year. So we understand how it looks. But we went into this season and training camp tell our players, hey, you’re gonna read all that stuff, hear all that stuff. But if we play hard, we believe you guys are good players and if we play together and play hard we’ll win our fair share of games. I’m not going to put our a number on it or anything like that. But we’ll win our fair share and so far that’s what’s happened.”


VIDEO: Bledsoe fuels Suns’ victory in Houston

So the group went out and made Hornacek the first coach in Suns history to win his first four home games. They kept every game within a five-point margin in the final five minutes for the first three weeks of the season. After a home win against Toronto on Friday night, they stand at 11-9. They are doing it with an offensive style that wants to run when it can and a defensive approach that is always attacking on the perimeter. Hornacek is making the most of the guard tandem of Dragic and Bledsoe that many thought create duplication and conflict.

“Look, I’m only a rookie in this league myself, but I’ve had a lot of coaches at other levels of the game,” said center Miles Plumlee, “and I think what we are is a reflection of Jeff’s personality. What I know of him during his pro career is a guy that used no excuses, took no shortcuts and got the most out of his ability.”

All the while he’s been doing it by keeping a lid on those outward displays of emotions.

“I slip every once in a while,” Hornacek said. “They could drive you crazy. That’s part of it. Not everything’s gonna go perfectly. I think all coaches get frustrated when they see the same errors over and over. If they see something new, OK, maybe haven’t seen that. But the guy makes a mistake and does the same thing and does the same thing that’s when you’re gonna pound your head and say ‘OK, we talked about that.’ That’s the way it is.

“We’re also pretty young except for a couple of guys, Channing and Goran have been around. Everyone else is playing minutes that they’ve never played before. So we hopefully learn, but that’s a big part of it. I think it’s also part as an ex-player to want to be out there. You see things happen and you can give these guys all the preparation and talk about reads, but they actually have to do it out there … Maybe as ex-players, you see, ‘This is gonna develop.’ But they’ve got to figure that out.”

So far, Hornacek is giving his Suns enough room and push to do that.

Reunited Feels So Good For Morris Twins


VIDEO: Phoenix’s Morris Bros. run the pick and roll to perfection

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The ball clung to the front of the rim for what seemed an eternity as if pondering whether to reward the surprising Phoenix Suns with a last-second road win in Portland, or to hand this hustling bunch a humbling, back-to-earth dose of heartache.

Markieff Morris, the Suns’ surging reserve power forward and the unlikely reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, waited underneath. His two-handed put-back during a chaotic final few seconds took three small, slow-motion hops on the lip. Finally it dropped, the wrong way — Trail Blazers 90, Suns 89. Morris folded to his knees, slapped the floor, tugged at his jersey with his teeth, bounded down the court, eyes rolling up as if pleading to the basketball gods for a re-do.

“It was right there, man, right there,” Morris told the Arizona Republic afterward. “That’s hard to swallow.”

The Suns tried to avoid a first two-game losing skid of the season tonight against the Brooklyn Nets, but fell  100-98 in overtime.

Wednesday’s loss was the fourth this season for rookie coach Jeff Hornacek‘s feisty Suns, a rebuilding team expected to lose often but with sturdy defense and a fastbreaking offense, is 5-4. Morris was a catalyst. Before that excruciating tip fell off the rim, he had made 33 of his previous 45 shots from virtually every distance and angle on the court.

The 6-foot-10, 245-pounder averaged 22.8 ppg and 8.0 rpg in his previous four games to earn POY honors, becoming the first Suns player to do so since Amare Stoudemire in 2008. It’s an award reserved almost exclusively for starters. Nate Robinson and J.R. Smith sneaked in last season, but you might have to go all the way back to Manu Ginobili in 2007 to find another.

Markieff Bros. share in rise together


VIDEO: Markieff Morris cleans up brother Marcus’ miss against the Pelicans

Yet as far as Morris is concerned, his award announced on Monday actually went to two Suns reserves.

“When I won the Western Conference player [honor], it was like we both won it,” Morris told NBA.com on Tuesday prior to boarding the team plane to Portland. “He was just real happy. We’re in this together and that’s how we are.”

“He” is Markieff’s identical twin brother, Marcus Morris. Through 1 1/2 seasons of playing on different teams for the first time in their lives, the Morris brothers hadn’t lived up to their 2011 Draft positions — Markieff No. 13 to Phoenix and Marcus No. 14 to Houston — after three seasons together at Kansas. They now plug in like a dual power pack, “it’s like a 2-on-1 type of thing,” as Markieff explained.

They are a rugged forward pairing off the bench. Markieff, who wears No. 11, plays mostly power forward and some center. Marcus, No. 15, plays small forward and takes over at power forward when Markieff slides to center. Together, they average 23.9 ppg and 12.4 rpg. Markieff is the Suns’ second-leading scorer at 15.9 ppg — more than seven points higher than his career average — and second-leading rebounder at 6.4 rpg, doing so in 28.8 mpg. Marcus is averaging 8.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg — nearly doubling his career average of 3.3 — in 22.1 mpg.

Nearly all of Marcus’ minutes come alongside Markieff. Their net rating together (difference between offensive rating and defensive rating) is a robust 7.6 — a key to why Phoenix ranks fifth in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) — and the they’re securing 52.1 percent of the available rebounds.

Their synergy was palpable during the Las Vegas Summer League when both brothers decided to play — even though it wasn’t required of them.

‘We’re better together’

“Sure, we’re better together,” Marcus told NBA.com. “I feel like because we’re together, we can bring the whole team together, they can follow our lead. We’ve been playing together all our lives, so he’s just more comfortable. He’s more comfortable and I help him with what he needs to do and we push each other in in the right direction.”

Or as Markieff put it: “We’re like the Spurs, how they’ve been together for a long time, so used to each other and playing together.”

The twins are identical in nearly every aspect, although Markieff is listed as an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Marcus. Otherwise, good luck telling them apart out of their uniforms. They have the same haircut and both sport trimmed beards. Their 18 tattoos are carbon copies inked in the identical spot. The inside of their wing spans read: “MORRIS BROTHERS, EST. 1989.”

They live in the same house. They drive a similar model Mercedes in the same color, baby blue. They don’t wear the same clothes, but get each other’s approval before going out. They eat the same pre-game meal, mostly chicken alfredo, and they love going home to eat mom’s cornbread. Their mother, Angel, told the New York Times last March that the nearly inseparable twins just weren’t right apart.

“They said ’Kieff hit a rookie wall,’” she said. “I don’t think it was a rookie wall. I just think that when they sent Marcus to the D-League, he was so depressed that ’Kieff felt the same depression.”

So is it any surprise then that since reuniting midway through their NBA sophomore season both are maximizing their abilities? Phoenix’s former regime heeded Markieff’s pleas to trade for his brother last Feb. 21. For new general manager Ryan McDonough, who flipped the roster with nine new players, the brothers were one of a few palatable leftovers.

“At the time I knew they [the Suns] weren’t making the playoffs, but it was a chance to get back with my brother,” Marcus said. “At the time I was at a loss for words, just thanking God that he made that a possibility because I feel like that can bring our skill out more.”

Markieff’s production, on cue, immediately spiked following the trade, even as the Suns spiraled to a disastrous 25-win season that ended coach Alvin Gentry‘s tenure midway through and turned off a loyal fan base. Before Marcus’ arrival, Markieff averaged 7.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 20.3 mpg in 55 games. He shot 39.4 percent overall and 28.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the final 27 games with Marcus, Markieff averaged 10.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg in 26.6 mpg. He shot 43.0 percent and an inexplicable 44.4 percent (20-for-45) from downtown.

“Last year I was getting away from the stuff that got me here, the extra work that I had to put in,” Markieff said. “When he came he definitely reminded me that we got to put this extra work in, as younger guys we’ve got to stay longer hours, we’ve got to try to be great, I’ve got to try to be great.

“That’s what I did. We pushed each other to another limit. He just won’t tell you stuff to make you feel better and to brighten your day up. He’s going to challenge me. If I’m playing good or if I’m playing bad, I think we do that for each other. He’s the first to tell me you got to do this right, and vice-versa.”

New-Look Suns Getting It Done


VIDEO: Suns keep rolling, drop Pelicans

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Of the 16 players that suited up for the Phoenix Suns last season, 12 are gone.

Then there was the ultimate short-timer Caron Butler, a Suns player this summer just long enough to model the franchise’s new uniforms at a Scottsdale mall. In all, eight players are new to the roster, and straight from the feel-good department is Channing Frye returning from a scary heart condition that robbed him of the entire 2012-13 season. Frye is the Suns’ longest-tenured player, signed as a free agent way back in 2009, before current general manager Ryan McDonough had celebrated his 30th birthday.

The Suns’ starting five includes two players from last season: P.J.Tucker and Goran Dragic to go with Frye, Miles Plumlee and star-in-the-making Eric Bledsoe.

And here they are, a team that figured to lose games at a rapid rate is 5-2 and leading the Pacific Division. So how is it possible for an organization that hired a new GM, hired a new coach, cleaned house and then traded its talented starting center Marcin Gortat to Washington a week before the season started (for an injured one who might not play at all) to have already secured one-fifth of its win total from all of last season?

(more…)

Improved ‘D’ Fuels Quick Start For Bobcats, Suns And Magic

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s early.

But the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t the only surprise team of the 2013-14 season’s first 10 days. The Charlotte Bobcats, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns – three teams projected by most to finish in the in the bottom five of the league – are all 3-2 entering Friday’s 12-game slate.

When we look at these three rosters, we see a lack of talent. And from that we can predict that they will struggle offensively. But team defense is another story, especially when you have a new coach, like in Charlotte and Phoenix. Organization and energy on defense can help teams with limited talent overachieve. And defense is the common theme in the early success of these three squads, though one of the three has been much more successful on that end of the floor.

Again, it’s early.

But the Magic, Suns and Bobcats rank third, eighth and 13th in defensive efficiency, respectively. And they all rank among the six most improved defensive teams from last season.

Here’s a closer look…

Charlotte

DefRtg: 100.4 (13th)
Improvement: -8.6 (6th)

The Bobcats’ wins have come against the Cavs, Knicks and Raptors, by a total of 13 points. So just like last year’s 7-5 start, there’s a fool’s gold element here.

In only one of their five games – the win over Cleveland – have they held their opponent under a point per possession. And the Cavs currently rank 29th in offensive efficiency. Bobcats opponents have been a hair less efficient (100.3 points scored per 100 possessions) in their 20 games not against Charlotte.

That doesn’t mean that the future Hornets don’t have anything to feel positive about. They had a hobbled Al Jefferson for just their first game and scored 107 points per 100 possessions over their last two wins. Once they add a healthy Jefferson to their Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions pick-and-rolls, the offense should be even better.

And long term, the Cats will be more organized defensively under Steve Clifford than they were under Mike Dunlap. The early defensive numbers are a little inflated though.

Phoenix

DefRtg: 96.4 (8th)
Improvement: -9.3 (5th)

The Suns have beaten Portland, Utah and New Orleans by a total of 22 points. And they also hung in with the Thunder and Spurs on the road. Their opponents have scored 100.0 points per 100 possessions in their 18 games not against Phoenix.

The Suns had the worst 3-point defense in the league last season and were particularly bad at defending the arc (41.5 percent) with Michael Beasley on the floor. There’s definitely an addition-by-subtraction element here.

They’ve also improved quite a bit on the glass, ranking 11th in defensive rebounding percentage (74.8 percent) after ranking 23rd (71.9 percent) last season. More playing time for the Morris twins has helped in that regard. The Suns have grabbed 75.4 percent of available defensive boards and allowed just 90.6 points per 100 possessions in 148 minutes with one of the two twins on the floor.

Time will tell if Jeff Hornacek‘s defense will continue to hold up, but the signs are good so far. They host the Nuggets and Pelicans this weekend and could face their toughest defensive test on Wednesday, when they visit the Blazers, who currently rank sixth offensively.

Orlando

DefRtg: 94.8 (3rd)
Improvement: -11.9 (1st)

Of the three teams, it’s the Magic who have looked most legit, with wins over the Pelicans, Nets and Clippers by a total of 49 points.

Last season, the Magic defense was strong early in the season, but collapsed after Glen Davis got hurt. So the prospects of them being a decent defensive team while Davis was still recovering from foot surgery were not good. But here they are at No. 3 in the league, having held the Pelicans, Nets and Clippers under 90 points per 100 possessions.

Both Brooklyn and L.A. spoke about a lack of effort in their games in Orlando. The Nets were probably feeling themselves after last Friday’s win over the Heat, and the Clippers were maybe looking forward to their own game against the champs.

But Orlando’s defensive numbers are pretty darn impressive anyway. The Pelicans, Nets and Clippers scored a combined 89.5 points per 100 possessions against Orlando, compared to 108.0 in their other 12 games. L.A. currently ranks No. 1 in the league offensively.

Orlando opponents OffRtg

Team vs. ORL Other games Diff.
Indiana 101.0 99.4 +1.6
Minnesota 103.5 94.1 +9.4
New Orleans 91.4 103.7 -12.2
Brooklyn 89.0 102.5 -13.4
L.A. Clippers 88.0 114.5 -26.4
TOTAL 94.8 103.4 -8.5

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

The Magic are forcing 1.2 more turnovers per 100 possessions than they did last season, but the early improvement has been mostly about shot defense. And there’s multiple elements to that.

They’re defending the rim better, defending the 3-point line better, and allowing less of those high-efficiency shots. Only 48.1 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or from 3-point range, the second-lowest rate in the league. Last season, that number was 56.7 percent, the 14th lowest rate in the league.

Of Brooklyn’s 89 shots in Orlando last Sunday, 50 came from between the restricted area and the 3-point line. On Wednesday, it was 55 of the Clippers’ 95 shots.

The Magic had a multiple-prong game plan against the Clips, and it worked. First, they sagged deep on Chris Paul‘s pick-and-rolls.

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Paul stepped into some easy elbow jumpers, but the sagging strategy prevented him from getting past the Magic big men and really compromising the Orlando D.

Second, they dared Blake Griffin to shoot from mid-range.

20131106_griffin_space

Griffin was 3-for-13 from outside the paint before that game, but shot an impressive 7-for-13 from mid-range on Wednesday. Still, he got just three shots at the rim.

Finally, the Magic cross-matched in the backcourt, assigning Jameer Nelson to defend his old teammate J.J. Redick. And Nelson did a fantastic job of running Redick off the 3-point line. Here are a couple of examples…


Redick is a great shooter from everywhere, but three is greater than two, so if you can force him into more mid-range shots than threes, you’re doing your job. On Wednesday, Redick was 1-for-5 from 3-point range and 3-for-8 from mid-range.

One more time: It’s early. But an ability to execute a defensive game plan against a great offensive team like that early in the season is a good sign for the Magic defense.

Butler Embraces Leading Suns, Beasley

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Eric Bledsoe, the 23-year-old point guard brimming with star potential, won the headlines in the Phoenix Suns’ July trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. But it might be the veteran in the deal, 33-year-old forward and by far the club’s elder statesmen, Caron Butler, who proves most valuable in this important transitional season for a franchise on the skids.

Troubled power forward Michael Beasley is the poster child for everything that’s gone wrong in Phoenix. He was a disgrace on the floor last season, his first after the Suns’ former front-office decision-makers gift-wrapped him a three-year, $18-million contract, and continues to be an embarrassment off it.

Investigated for sexual assault in May, Beasley was arrested two weeks ago when officers detected pot after pulling him over for speeding. The franchise has not publicly addressed this latest disappointment. The fact is they have two choices: Wipe their hands of him and eat the remaining $9 million he’s guaranteed, or somehow try to help the self-destructive former No. 2 pick, just 24, whose career, and potentially a life outside of prison, is hanging by the threads of a frayed shoelace.

“I think there’s a lot that can be done to help him and I think one is, and this is not from the organization or anything, but it’s just for the people who are around him and love him most, is just don’t give up on him, try to help him as much as possible, build him up because he’s a star,” Butler told NBA.com during a phone interview from his new home in Phoenix. “He’s a guy that had an unbelievable collegiate career, who came into the NBA as a top-two pick, so the talent is there, it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s like clay, it just needs to be molded right. Somebody needs to be around him, talking to him and telling him the right things and building him up and keeping nothing but positive energy around him and moving him forward instead of pulling him back.”

Butler, a raging success story born out of an unsavory childhood, was arrested numerous times before he turned 15. He said if if the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Beasley remains with the team, Butler will stick by the Beasley’s side and mentor him.

“I would stay in his ear, I would definitely stay in his ear,” Butler said. “I would continue to motivate him and I would challenge him night-in and night-out, in practice, just whatever I can do to make him better I would do as a human being, and obviously as a basketball player because I think he has tremendous upside still. He’s just 24 years old.”

It’s hardly the role the 6-foot-7 small forward envisioned prior to July 10. Butler was at his offseason home in Washington D.C. with his wife and three young daughters when he received a phone call from his agent. He had been traded. Only a couple of weeks earlier Butler was ecstatic at the news that the Clippers had pulled off the deal to nab Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a move that would cinch Chris Paul‘s return and fire up championship hype. Then came the unsuspecting call from his agent that he and Bledsoe were headed to the 25-win Suns.

Butler soon saw the news on the crawl on TV. No one from the Clippers’ front office has called him, Butler said.

“I don’t leave with bitterness or anything, but a phone call would have helped the situation,” said Butler, who two summers ago signed a three-year, $24 million free-agent deal to play for the Clippers before the club’s fortuitous, franchise-changing trade for CP3. “But it’s cool, it’s no hard feelings because that’s the nature of the business.

“It’s a fun team to watch,” Butler continued. “Up-and-down tempo, you look at the high flyers of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and you’ve got a magician with the ball in Chris Paul. You got shooters around them, you got J.J. Redick, and a great coach and a great coaching staff. You look at that and that’s real appealing, and that’s Hollywood.”

With that potential storybook season fading to black, Butler quickly moved his family to Phoenix where he’s been working out in preparation for the start of training camp roughly still five weeks away. In July, he spent a week in Las Vegas during the NBA’s Summer League with a handful of veterans, including Andre Iguodala, participating an NBA Players Association leadership program. The intensive course ran eight hours a day and provided players who might have front-office aspirations with a comprehensive look inside the business, from the fine print of the collective bargaining agreement to formulating scouting reports on teams and players.

The week in Vegas also provided Butler a chance to have dinner with his new coach, Jeff Hornacek, and to mingle with — and scout — several of his new teammates that played on the summer team (one of his leadership program assignments was to scout the Suns players and coaches during a game), including Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, P.J. TuckerKendall Marshall and promising draft pick Archie Goodwin.

“I just saw a lot of potential,” said Butler, who slyly deferred when asked for his summation of Hornacek’s performance: “I can’t share that.”

So this new chapter isn’t CP3, Griffin, Doc and the Lob City thrill show he expected in the final year of his contract. But then Butler seems to possess a deeper perspective as he prepares for his 12th season with a sixth team.

“I look at it as a situation in which I look at my life, I look at my timeline, and one, a lot of people didn’t even have me here [in the NBA], and a lot of people didn’t have me here this long,” said Butler, who averaged 10.4 ppg last season and will likely see his career-low 24.1 mpg rise in Phoenix. “And to have the success that I have and still maintain my humbleness and still be the person that I am, that speaks volumes.

“So whatever comes my way, I take it in stride and I just keep moving forward. So it is what it is and I’m going to make the best out of the situation that I’m in now.”

And just maybe the Suns organization is hopeful that Beasley can learn from a man who has walked in shoes not much different from his own.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 11 Recap

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LAS VEGAS – Ian Clark is the essence of Summer League.

The 22-year-old out of Belmont was the Ohio Valley Conference co-player of the year. He was a two-time defensive player of the year and a four-time all-conference selection. He never shot below 40 percent in a season from behind the arc.

At the June 27 NBA Draft at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Clark’s name was never called.

Undrafted and looking for his big shot, the unheralded, and mostly unheard of Clark — not Kent Bazemore or Draymond Green, but the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Clark — carried the Golden State Warriors, with seven 3-pointers and a game-high 33 points, to a  91-77 victory over the Phoenix Suns in the inaugural Summer League tournament championship game.

In the NBA playoffs they call that kind of performance a podium game because the player would be asked to appear at the dais to meet the media. In the Summer League, well, let’s call it a contract game. It might not come from the Warriors, whose well-stocked backcourt includes the impressive Bazemore (who was also voted to the all-Summer-League team). But there’s 29 other NBA teams out there that might want Clark, and only one has to make an offer.

At least a few, according to a Warriors official, have offered Clark at least a partially guaranteed contract. The 2013 Summer League championship game MVP, the official said, also has lucrative options in Europe.

“Hopefully,” Clark said of making an NBA roster after besting his career-high at Belmont by one point. “I just wanted to come out here and play hard, and I think that’s what Summer League is for, to come out here and showcase your talents.

Before the championship game, Clark had averaged 9.0 points, scoring 54 points in the previous six games.

The Warriors capped their Vegas run with a 7-0 record and made it consecutive summers without a loss. The Phoenix Suns, led by new coach Jeff Hornacek and key roster players Marcus and Markieff Morris, along with P.J. Tucker, suffered their first loss but may have gained a pretty good player as they continue to rebuild next season.

Late first-round draft pick Archie Goodwin had an impressive run and ended it with 18 points. The lanky, 6-foot-5, one-and-done guard out of Kentucky consistently outplayed Kendall Marshall, the Suns’ lottery pick from last season. Goodwin averaged 13.1 ppg and shot 50 percent from the floor.

So that will do it for the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League. The big boys are in town now for a U.S. Men’s National Team mini-camp that started Monday and runs through Thursday, when the intra-squad scrimmage will be broadcast live at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV.

2013 All-Summer League Team

MVP: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto)

Kent Bazemore (Golden State)

Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

John Henson (Milwaukee)

Jeff Taylor (Charlotte)

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 10 recap

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LAS VEGAS –
 The Miami Heat will not double-down in Vegas. The back-to-back NBA champs were seeking a Summer League title with a team whose roster is filled with young hopefuls that will not play for the 2013-14 Heat.

The only familiar face affiliated with the summer Heat has been that of coach Erik Spoelstra, who has watched the team perform from a front row seat throughout the week. Still, this Heat team deserves a lot of credit. Coached by assistant coach Dan Craig, a former Heat video assistant, just like Spoelstra used to be, Miami entered the inaugural Summer League tournament as the No. 18 seed and landed in the semifinal round.

But they seemed no match for the No. 3-seed Phoenix Suns, who feature three rotation players in P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, plus last year’s No. 13 pick Kendall Marshall and this year’s No. 29 pick Archie Goodwin. And new head coach Jeff Hornacek has been on the bench throughout the summer league.

The Suns led 60-40 midway through the third quarter before Miami’s James Nunnally (24 points), a D-Leaguer in Bakersfield last season, James Ennis (25 points, nine rebounds), a long-shot draft pick out of Long Beach State, D.J. Kennedy (18 points, six rebounds), who logged two games with Cleveland in 2011-12, and Eric Griffin, who played in Italy last season, rallied the Heat.

Nunnally’s 3-pointer with 3:51 to go put Miami ahead 84-83 and the Suns were getting burned to the point of embarrassment. It didn’t sit well with Tucker, who quickly jacked up the intensity.

“We weren’t losing that. We got too many roster players and we working too hard to get this done,” Tucker said. “Me, Markieff, Marcus, Kendall, we got way too many roster players on this team I feel like to be losing. So for me, it was a little personal at the end to try to really get the win.”

Tucker’s two free throws and then a jumper put the Suns up 89-87 with 1:07 to go as he looked over to the Heat bench and directed a few words their way. The Suns (6-0) held on to win it 91-89 and will face the top-seeded Golden State Warriors (6-0) in Monday’s championship game (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

The Warriors, led by roster players Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore, advanced with a 75-67 win over the No. 5 Charlotte Bobcats, who elected again to not play Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and No. 4 pick Cody Zeller.

Kidd-Gilchrist will stay in Vegas for the U.S. Men’s National Team training camp that runs Monday through Thursday. Both Zeller and Biyombo did not play in the last two games.

So Monday’s matchup will be a battle of unbeatens in the first Summer League championship game with the Warriors looking to make it 14 straight Summer League victories. And if you don’t think both teams — the Suns with their roster players and the Warriors with their winning streak — are taking this seriously, think again.

“It is for real for us,” said Bazemore, a leading MVP candidate who had a tough shooting going 4-for-12 for 13 points, but also collected four assists. “We came out here and had a mini-camp where we were just working out, and we always look at each other like we work too hard to just get to a certain place and be satisfied. We always feel like we can win a game. We’re probably the best de-… well, we are the best defensive team here. Defense wins championships.”

Non-rookie of the day: Who else could it be other than the Suns’ Tucker, who finished with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, plus rebounds and two steals.

Other notables:  The Suns’ Marcus Morris contributed 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 22 minutes, and Dionte Christmas had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists. Golden State’s Green put up a double-double after three quarters and finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four steals.

Rookie of the day: The Heat’s Ennis scored a game-high 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting in the two-point loss to the Suns. He also grabbed nine rebounds, an impressive six on the offensive glass, and had just two turnovers in more than 34 minutes of action.

Other notables: Big man Arinze Onuaku, a D-Leaguer last season in Canton, scored 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and had four rebounds off the bench in just 14:40. Undrafted rookie Chris Babb out of Iowa State had nine points, four boards and four assists for the Suns in 17:42 off the bench. Miami’s Nunnally went 5-for-6 from 3-point range and was 8-for-12 overall coming off the bench for 24 points. Former Syracuse guard Brandon Triche played prominently for the Bobcats with 13 points and five rebounds off the bench and teammate Troy Daniels, undrafted out of Virginia Commonwealth, had 13 points and seven rebounds. Two-year D-League vet Cameron Jones had 16 points for the Warriors. 

Coming up: The final day of the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League will see its inaugural title game pitting the Warriors against the Suns.