Posts Tagged ‘Michael Carter-Williams’

Bucks’ Kidd sits Carter-Williams, Parker, tries Bayless, Mayo for spark

The cloak-and-dagger of NBA starting lineups seldom has been more intense, and one example of that played out in Charlotte Sunday afternoon with the Milwaukee Bucks.

In what increasingly is becoming standard operating procedure around the league, Bucks coach Jason Kidd opted not to share his starting lineup with reporters during his pregame interview period about 90 minutes before tipoff. But word that he would be sitting point guard Michael Carter-Williams and forward Jabari Parker leaked out between then and required official announcement for lineups (one hour before tipoff) prior to Milwaukee’s road matinee against the Hornets. That turned, for a brief time, the process into a part of the story almost equal to the move itself.

Longtime Milwaukee beat writer Charles Gardner did a little forensic investigating to track the source of the info:

Not that long ago, it only occasionally happened that a coach might turn cagey when asked about his starting five. Almost all of them did it from time to time, a few of them did it frequently – think former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau – but now many of them do it almost as part of their pregame routine. Maybe technology has changed things, with the speed with which opponents can react – with streamed video breakdowns, for instance – turning those 30 minutes or so into a competitive edge.

Regardless, the meat of the move was Kidd changing up 40 percent of his starting lineup in response to the Bucks’ miserable recent play. Milwaukee had dropped five of six games and seven of nine heading into Charlotte, giving up more than 100 points seven times in those nine games. After riding an improved defense to a 26-victory improvement last spring (from 15-67 to 41-41) and a playoff berth, the Bucks rank 26th in effective field-goal percentage (.521), last in DRtg (113.0) and 29th in pace (92.7).

Carter-Williams, in his past seven performances, has averaged 3.6 turnovers to 3.7 assists and 9.1 points, while shooting 43.1 percent from the floor and 63.2 percent from the foul line. Jerryd Bayless, who started in MCW’s place Sunday, has been better both individually and in running the Bucks’ attack.

Parker, in his comeback from last December’s torn ACL injury, actually had perked up a little statistically: 10.3 points in 25.0 minutes while shooting 53.8 percent in his last eight appearances. The No. 2 draft pick from 2014 – whose starting spot was filled by O.J. Mayo – also was playing his way back on monitored minutes. That had some wondering if Kidd was providing Carter-Williams a little cover, rather than singling him out for a solo benching.

But it sounded as if Kidd’s decision involved more than just stats:

Morning shootaround — Nov. 18

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 17


LeBron: Cavs aren’t as ‘hungry’ as Warriors | Davis’ status for tonight unknown | Kidd: ‘Wouldn’t say we gave up a lot’ in Knight trade

No. 1: LeBron: Cavs aren’t as hungry as Warriors — Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has tried a few manners of button-pushing to motivate his squad in 2015-16. He’s apparently added another one to his list. After last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, a game that the Cavs led by five points with 3 minutes, 49 seconds left, James wasn’t happy the performance. He looked across the conference divide at the Golden State Warriors (who would win last night to move to 12-0) and draw some comparisons between his defending East champs and the defending-champion Warriors. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

“We haven’t done anything,” James said, following the Cavaliers’ 104-99 loss to the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland’s second-consecutive loss and third this season. “We didn’t win anything. We lost. We lost in the Finals. So, that’s enough motivation for myself. I think we need to understand that.

“Like, we lost in the Finals. We didn’t win. And the team that beat us looks more hungry than we are. So it shouldn’t be that way.”

Coach David Blatt piled on Tuesday night, saying that the Cavs “need to toughen up.” The Cavs blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter with poor defense, shooting, and turnovers down the stretch.

“I didn’t think we displayed the kind of toughness that made us a team last year,” Blatt said. “I didn’t see that the last two games and we need to toughen up. Every aspect.”

James agreed, adding: “We’re too relaxed and too nice.”

“It’s not always about being Iron Man,” James said. “It’s a mental toughness as well. Going out and doing your job, doing it at a high level and preparing that way before the tip even happens. So, we got some guys who’ll do it and some guys that don’t do it consistently enough.”

On Saturday, James questioned the Cavs’ effort level, calling it “half ass” at times.

Without naming names, James is accusing some teammates of a sense of entitlement, held over from reaching the Finals last season and returning the entire nucleus from that team.

“We shouldn’t feel entitled,” he said. “That’s what I continue to say. We’re not entitled to a win. We’re not entitled to being the Eastern Conference Champions. That’s last year. It’s a totally different year and until we figure that out, we’re going to continue to put ourselves in positions to lose basketball games.”

VIDEO: LeBron James wasn’t happy after the Cavs’ loss to Detroit

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Milwaukee Bucks anticipate return of Jabari Parker

VIDEO: The Bucks are off to a slow start, but reinforcements are on the way

BROOKLYN — Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd invoked one of the most threadbare (yet accurate) maxims in the NBA on Monday, when he noted “the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint.” He said this without any apparent sarcasm, perhaps forgetting that just one day earlier 50,000 people jogged past Barclays Center as part of the New York City Marathon.

But perhaps the Bucks can be forgiven if it seems like they are happening at full speed thus far this season. The offseason saw a logo and uniform reboot, as well as plans coalescing for a new downtown Milwaukee arena. After the offseason signing of center Greg Monroe and the continued growth of young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks figured to be improved from the group that won 41 games and made the playoffs a season ago.

Yet the 2015-16 season has, at least thus far, been more of a letdown than a come up, as the Bucks skidded out of the gate to an 0-3 start. They managed to notch their first victory of the season on Monday night, finishing with a 7-0 run for a 103-96 win over the Nets.

The good news is that reinforcements are imminent. Along with reserve point guard Tyler Ennis, the Bucks announced on Monday that last year’s promising rookie Jabari Parker had been cleared to return to action, and would see time on Wednesday night in Milwaukee against the Sixers.

After being selected second overall in the 2014 Draft, Parker got off to a fast start last season, and was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December while averaging 11.9 ppg and 6.1 rpg. But his rookie season ended not long after, stopped short 25 games into the season when Parker tore his left ACL on Dec. 15, 2014, during a game against Phoenix.

In Brooklyn on Monday, Parker said he is trying to manage his own expectations for his long-await return: “It feels pretty good but it’s a long ways to go. It’s about maintaining, how I got here so far. But I’m blessed.”

According to Kidd, Parker has been working out with the Bucks rotation players, which should ease his assimilation into the lineup. But they still plan to pump the brakes, Kidd said, initially limiting his minutes to 15-20 per game and perhaps holding him out of the second half of back-to-backs.

“I just stick with the plan,” said Parker. “You know, they always have a schedule for me, but they don’t want me to rush into it, and to just go from there.

“I will just go with what I’m given.”

Parker thinks he can play multiple positions along the Bucks front line, which would seem to make him a perfect fit on Kidd’s roster stacked with long and lean versatile players.

“I look forward to playing the 3, 4, 5, depends on which guys are there,” Parker said. “I’ve gotten to learn philosophies and concepts at each position. Watched other guys, looked at the games and put myself in their positions, got reps at practice.

“I worked on pretty much just being an overall player, to fill a void for the team no matter any position they want me to go. Really been studying the game, to where I’ve been able to just get better and more comfortable now, a lot less nervous than I was a year ago at this time.”

The Bucks’ start may have been bumpy, but it is only a start — remember all that stuff about marathon versus sprint. And with Milwaukee’s first win in the book, maybe the renewed excitement and expectations that surrounded this team all summer can take hold, particularly as Parker gets ready to suit up for the first time in almost a year.

“I think [Parker is] excited,” said Kidd. “He’s 20 years old, he was hurt doing something that he loved and wants to get back out and help his team win.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 25

VIDEO: The Starters predict who’ll will the 2015-16 Finals


Luke Walton not intimidated by coaching in Warriors opener | Monta Ellis looks for big season with Pacers | Derrick Rose loves Fred Hoiberg’s system already | Hassan Whiteside could be the difference for Miami this season

No. 1: Luke Walton not intimidated by coaching in Warriors opener — Just four months ago Luke Walton was the third man on the bench of the soon-to-be world champion Warriors, next to Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry. But Gentry left to become coach of the Pelicans and Kerr has missed most of training camp with complications following back surgery. And now Walton will steer the Warriors at least temporarily until Kerr recovers, and there’s no timetable for that. Warriors GM Bob Myers made it official on Saturday. Here’s Ron Kroichick of the Chronicle with the details:

Kerr’s absence vaults Walton, 35, into a head-coaching role only 2½ years after his playing career ended. He spent one season as an assistant coach in the NBA Development League and last season, essentially, as the No. 3 assistant with the Warriors (behind Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams). Walton did lead the team in the summer league and throughout the preseason, but he realizes the intensity will rise into another realm Tuesday night.

His biggest challenge could involve substitutions. Kerr proved adept at this in his inaugural season at the helm, helping Andre Iguodala thrive as the sixth man and finding sufficient playing time for Marreese Speights and Shaun Livingston, among others.

“Managing minutes and lineups will probably be the trickiest thing, because we have such a deep team,” Walton said. “A lot of times it’s a crap shoot, as far as who we’re going with. Is it Mo? Is it Festus (Ezeli)? How long are we playing Andre and Shaun? …

“So we have to be ready to make moves quickly. I’m confident we’ll be able to do all that stuff.”

Walton, son of Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, played on two NBA title teams with the Lakers in 2009 and ’10. That earned him instant credibility with Warriors players, to hear Myers tell it.

Also notable: Walton is barely older than the players he will lead into the season (he’s only four years older than Iguodala, for example). He clearly established a rapport with them as an assistant, though the dynamic could change as he makes the decisions in a game.

“I think the players respect Luke,” Myers said. “He’s real, he’s authentic. … He’s one of the smartest basketball minds we have in the organization. He grew up around the NBA, so he’s not intimidated by the NBA.”

The timing of Saturday’s news was interesting. Not only did Kerr attend practice, he was more involved than he had been since the Warriors announced on Oct. 1 that he was taking a leave of absence. Walton said Kerr even installed some new plays at the end of practice.

They will work in concert, even with Kerr steering clear of the bench. He’s expected to attend Tuesday night’s pregame ceremony, in which Warriors players and coaches will receive their championship rings. Myers said it’s unclear whether Kerr will remain in the arena for the game; if he does, he will stay in the background.


No. 2: Monta Ellis looks for big season with Pacers — There’s no looking back for Monta Ellis, now with his third team in four years, unless it’s involving his childhood growing up in Mississippi. Ellis is anxious to put his mark on the Pacers and help that franchise back to the playoffs, but he and his family took time to reflect on the hard journey he took from childhood to the NBA. Candace Buckner of the Indy Star-News has a terrific profile of Ellis, one of the best players in the NBA who has never made the All-Star team:

The walls didn’t come down in California, where Ellis was the shoot-first thorn stubbornly pricked into Don Nelson’s side.

These days, Nelson has retired to the shores of Hawaii, where he is unplugged from the NBA transactions wire and unburdened by old beefs with former players. Still, his bouts with Ellis are well known. Nelson inherited Ellis in his second year in the league and coached him until the 2009-10 season.

“Well, the first thing that pops into my head is that he’s …” Nelson starts, and you’re expecting to hear a sort of basketball pejorative: selfish scorer, one-dimensional ball hog. And yet, Nelson makes a surprising declaration.

“…a terrific player,” he finishes.

Then comes the verbal asterisk: “Right now.”

“He was hard to coach when he was young; there’s no question in my mind about that,” Nelson continues. “He was very difficult to coach early. Like I said, single-minded. He thought he could do everything, like a lot of young players.”


No. 3: Derrick Rose loves Hoiberg’s system alreadyDerrick Rose has had a painful preseason, as you know, suffering an eye injury and then dealing with double vision. He finally saw action in his first exhibition game and declares himself fit for the opener. He’s also a big fan of new coach Fred Hoiberg and especially Hoiberg’s offense. As you might remember, offense was always a sticky point under the previous regime. Here’s Sam Smith of with the details:

 Rose knows well the vagaries of the game.

“I felt good,” Rose said. “I just wanted to come out, get a feel for the offense. I loved the way coach designed everything, the way the offense is run. They’ve got me running down hill every time I catch the ball and I’m catching the ball with a live dribble.

“He asked me to play yesterday,” said Rose of Hoiberg. “For him to ask me it must mean he loved the way I was playing in practice. With this offense it’s a lot of openings and gaps. With the way we shoot the ball and the freedom we have to shoot the ball, it’s like you can’t help off anyone; if someone has it going we’re to keep feeding them. We’re going to play off matchups. We’ve got to do that a little bit more and get people the ball a little more, like when Jimmy (Butler) had a couple of post ups when he had (J.J.) Barea on him a couple of times and we missed him. That’s all about reading the game and reading who is out there, giving the ball to the right person.

“There are a lot more (driving) lanes,” enthused Rose. “It’s so many opportunities to drive or so many opportunities to shoot my mid range even in transition; it’s open. I’ve just got to get used to playing this way. I know that might sound crazy, but playing in a (deliberate) system for three or four years kind of got me out of my rhythm.

“Whenever I see lanes I’m driving,” said Rose. “As soon as I step up, I’m hitting whoever is open and just trying to play basketball. I love the way the offense is. Coming down we’re not thinking about what we are running. Coming down, start with a pick and roll and then that pick and roll opens up everything else.

“I thought I was just going to come out and facilitate the game,” said Rose. “But I saw openings and I got all the way to the basket. So I can take this and put it in the bank. It’s very encouraging. It’s scary for my confidence right now. The last thing I need is any more confidence.

I’m going to take this and run with it.”


No. 4: Hassan Whiteside could be the difference for Miami this season —  There’s a swell of enthusiasm not seen in Miami since, well, since LeBron James left town, and that’s because the Heat are revamped and, they hope, finally free of the injury bug that hampered them last season. They’re also counting big on center Hassan Whiteside, who was a surprise revelation last season and now must prove that his min-breakout season wasn’t a fluke. Here’s Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald with the latest:

If he expands on what he did in just less than 24 minutes a game last season, the Heat could zoom right back into title contention after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

If he just does what he did last year — averaging a double-double and defending the paint at an elite level — he’s still headed toward a monster payday (anywhere from $12 million to $18 million per season).

And if he goes backwards, it’s only going to make what is shaping up to be another interesting summer (when Durant hits the free agent market) only that more interesting.

The Heat, who has only $48 million and four players (Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and rookie Justise Winslow) on the books for next season, could build its future around Whiteside. Or, it could go in an entirely different direction.

For now, though, there are at least 82 games to go through. The ride for Miami’s new starting five — finally whole again with Bosh back from the blood clots in his lungs and point guard Goran Dragic directing what should be a faster pace on offense — begins Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Charlotte Hornets.

Most pundits are picking Miami to finish anywhere from second in the East behind James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to fifth or sixth behind younger teams like Washington and Atlanta or the veteran-laden Chicago Bulls.

Coach Erik Spoelstra, though, isn’t pinning the Heat’s hopes on one player. “You can’t just point it to one guy,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a five-man game. Hassan’s not going out there in UFC by himself or playing tennis. We have to build cohesiveness, and that takes some time to develop that trust.

“What Hassan gives you is a presence in the paint on both sides of the court. He’s bigger and stronger than most people you play against. Defensively we hope he can be one of our anchors near the rim and someone who can put a lot of pressure on the rim offensively.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Last year the starting point guard on opening night for the Sixers was Michael Carter-Williams. Now, it’s Isaiah Canaan … Cleveland GM David Griffin is already signing the praises of newly-extended Tristan ThompsonRudy Gobert isn’t sweating a so-so-preseason start … The Raptors might be concerned about Patrick Patterson‘s struggles; he was supposed to have a major role with the club this season … The new Michael Jordan store in Chicago has folks standing in line already

One Team, One Stat: A Historical Jump

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Milwaukee Bucks’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Milwaukee Bucks, who made a jump not seen in 17 years.

The stat


The context

20151022_mil_basicsThe only team in the last 38 years that improved as much defensively as last season’s Bucks was the Spurs when they drafted Tim Duncan and got David Robinson back from injury.

The Bucks didn’t add any impact defenders like that. Two-thirds of their minutes were played by guys that were on the roster the season before, with Jerryd Bayless and Jared Dudley being the newcomers that played the most.

But they did change their coach. Jason Kidd and assistant Sean Sweeney introduced a scheme that was aggressive on the perimeter and on the strong side of the floor, knowing the Bucks had the quickness and length to recover to opponents left open on the weak side.

The Bucks’ defensive improvement actually started in transition, where they allowed the fewest points in the league. According to SportVU, Milwaukee allowed the fewest shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock and the most in the last six seconds.


The Bucks now need a decent offense to go along with their top-5 defense. Free agent addition Greg Monroe is a good fit and will give them a boost inside.

But they need to complement him with better outside shooting. Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo were two of the 10 worst shooters from outside the paint last season.


Antetokounmpo has started three of his four preseason games at the four, with Jabari Parker still working his way back from ACL surgery. Antetokounmpo at the four allows the Bucks to put another shooter on the floor, while also making them quicker defensively.

Last year’s numbers like him there too.


If Monroe, Parker and John Henson are all healthy, Antetokounmpo probably won’t see as much playing time at the four this season. But it’s a look that Kidd can go to when he wants to get super athletic on defense.

Even with the addition of Monroe, that’s still the end of the floor where the Bucks will win games.

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

One Team, One Stat: Ugly O in Philly

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Philadelphia 76ers’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Philadelphia 76ers, who had the worst offense we’ve seen in a long time.

The stat


The context

20151014_phi_basicsThe last team that was more than 10 points per 100 possessions worse than the league average was the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets, featuring Junior Harrington and Donnell Harvey. Last year’s Sixers rank as the fourth worst offense of the last *38 years, ahead of only those Nuggets (-11.8), the ’87-88 Clippers (-10.2), and the ’99-00 Bulls (-10.1).

*Since the league starting counting turnovers in 1977.

Anything less than a point per possession is bad offense. And Philly scored less than a point per possession in 61 of its 82 games. The Sixers had the league’s highest turnover rate and ranked 29th in effective field goal percentage.

The reason they ranked higher than the Charlotte Hornets in effective field goal percentage is because the Sixers took the right kinds of shots. Only the Houston Rockets took a higher percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range.


But the Sixers shot at a bottom-five rate from every area of the floor.


The Sixers had three good 3-point shooters


And they had several bad ones…


The Sixers had one of the league’s most improved defenses last season, rising from 27th in defensive efficiency (in ’13-14) to 13th. Given how many shots they missed and how many turnovers they committed, it’s rather remarkable how good they were defensively (top-10 as late as April 1). Maybe Brett Brown deserved a Coach of the Year vote or two.

The Philly offense did improve after the All-Star break, when Michael Carter-Williams took his poor shooting and 4.2 turnovers per game to Milwaukee. But even after the break, Philly was 7.2 points per 100 possessions below the league average in offensive efficiency, ranking 28th in effective field goal percentage and 27th in in turnover rate.

This year’s Sixers have no choice but to get better offensively. They were so bad last season that they could improve as much as last year’s Cavs did offensively (+6.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and still rank in the bottom five in offensive efficiency.

No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor gives the Sixers’ offense a focal point. They still have Covington and Thompson. They added another shooter in Nik Stauskas, though he’ll need to be better than he was as a rookie (32.2 percent from 3-point range) in Sacramento.

There appears to be a big hole at point guard, but the guy filling that hole for now — Isaiah Canaan — is better for their offense than Carter Williams was. He had a much lower turnover rate than MCW last season and was the only player to shoot better than Stephen Curry on at least 100 pull-up 3-pointers.

A rookie, a second-year guy who didn’t shoot well as a rookie, and a undersized point guard aren’t a lot to count on. But the Sixers are obviously taking baby steps back toward relevance. They have a long way to go, but they have nowhere to go but up, especially on the offensive end of the floor.

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

Bucks reward Hammond for building the right way

VIDEO: John Hammond talks about the fresh new look of the Milwaukee Bucks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If you don’t know John Hammond by face, that’s fine by the Milwaukee Bucks’ general manager.

He’s old school that way. He’s not interested in the spotlight, never has been in all of the years I’ve known him (dating back to his days as Joe Dumars‘ top assistant in Detroit). But he might not be able to avoid it much longer, what with the work he’s done rebuilding the roster and reshaping the image of a Bucks team many of us believe is on the cusp of becoming an annual fixture in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Bucks coach Jason Kidd deserves plenty of credit for what we saw from the young Bucks last season, including that first round playoff scare they put into the Chicago Bulls. But the overall vision and direction for this team has been set by Hammond, who was rewarded by the Bucks today with an extension of his contract through the 2016-17 season.

In a business where front-office executives wash out before they can implement the changes to the culture and the systems they are hired to fix, Hammond’s extension is the ultimate vote of confidence. He was voted the 2010 NBA Executive of the Year by his peers for his early work with the team, but the Bucks have gone through coaching and ownership changes since then and Hammond has overseen a significant reversal of fortunes for the Bucks throughout the process.

“A great deal of our team’s success and progress is due to the vision and hard work of John,” Bucks owner Wes Edens said in a statement released by the team. “He’s assembled a talented and competitive roster and we’re very pleased that he will continue to lead basketball operations. With John and Coach Kidd at the helm, our young team has a very bright future.”

A future with Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams and Jabari Parker serving as franchise cornerstones certainly holds promise. Kidd has been praised, and rightfully so, for coming in and immediately instilling an air of confidence in his team.

Quality leadership at the NBA level is multi-tiered, from ownership to the front office to the bench and throughout the locker room. The Bucks appear to have all the pieces in place to continue rising up the ranks.

Making sure Hammond is around to keep things going is a wise move.

Blogtable: Team USA’s point guards for 2016?

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: Next Team USA coach? | Point guards for 2016? | Thoughts on NBA-refs deal?

VIDEOStephen Curry is looking forward to playing for Team USA

> Team USA has an embarrassment of riches at point guard with Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley and Michael Carter-Williams. Assuming they’ll take only three point guards to Rio, which three should it be? And why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWe’ve heard it from the USA brain trust that this team isn’t just a positional thing. So I’m not too bound up in strict point-guard duties or qualifications. Of that group, I know I’m going to have Chris Paul and Steph Curry on board. John Wall is hitting his prime and we’ll all know it by next spring, so I like him as my third PG. And then I still find a roster spot for Russell Westbrook (mentioned fourth here not in any pecking order but because he’s such a hybrid).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFirst off, I’m not buying your assumption that Team USA will take only three point guards. But if if have to play by your rules, I want Steph Curry, the best shooter in the game, Chris Paul, the best handle and distributor, and Russell Westbrook, because there are times when you just need the best athlete to overpower the opponent and make plays.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’m not sure three is the final number, but for the sake of conversation: Stephen Curry, because that shooting will be invaluable as Team USA constantly faces zones. Chris Paul, because he is arguably the most complete package among players in the league (passing, shooting, defense, leadership). And Russell Westbrook, because athleticism is one of the factors that will set the Americans apart and Westbrook can overwhelm opponents in that way. But it will be hard to complain about any of those names on the final roster.

Shaun Powell, I want Curry, Paul and Westbrook. Steph Curry, because he’s the best shooter of the bunch. Chris Paul, because he’s the best leader of the bunch and the one most likely to keep his cool if times get tight. And then there’s Russell Westbrook, because of his attack-ability. Can’t really go wrong with that trio.

John Schuhmann, Chris Paul is the best floor general in the league. Stephen Curry is the best shooter. And Russell Westbrook has the speed and athleticism that overwhelms most international opponents. Though Irving was the MVP of the World Cup last year, Wall would be ahead of him on my list of alternates, because he’s the better passer and better defender.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThis is an excruciating choice given the extreme embarrassment of riches available here, provided that everyone on this list is healthy at the time of selection. After watching Curry work in Spain at the FIBA World Cup last summer and ride that wave into a MVP and championship season with the Golden State Warriors, he’s my number one pick in this point guard draft. Chris Paul gives me a steady hand who has the experience and leadership qualities that are necessary in international competition of this sort, so he’s my second pick. And Russell Westbrook edges out John Wall for the third and final spot. He provides the experience, versatility and raw energy to change the game as my third point guard and utility man extraordinaire. I can use him in any number of ways in the international game and would do so liberally while Curry and CP3 concentrate on floor general duties. If any of these guys cannot make it to Rio for any reason, I want Wall to keep a packed bag ready.

Ian Thomsen, Curry, Paul and Wall should be the point guards because all are excellent passers and floor leaders – attributes that will be crucial to the success of this team. (If one of them is injured next summer then Conley should be the first alternate.) And then add Westbrook to the roster too – but mark him down simply as a guard, because he transcends traditional positioning.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogStephen Curry is a no-brainer. He’s the most valuable player in the NBA, so he’s going to Rio. With him, I’m bringing Chris Paul, who can run a team better than any of the other options, and is probably the best leader available to Team USA. Finally, I’m bringing Russell Westbrook. He’s the most dynamic point guard in the world when healthy, and bringing Westbrook off the bench and allowing him to terrorize second-string point guards from other teams would be must-see TV. (I also like that Westbrook or Curry can play the 2 alongside Paul.) Nothing against Irving, Wall, Conley or MCW, but like the question said, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Numbers preview: Bulls-Bucks

VIDEO: East Series Preview: Bulls – Bucks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — There’s a lot of new blood at the top of the Eastern Conference. The teams that met in the conference finals each of the last two years failed to qualify for the postseason this year. And only one of the top six teams in the standings – Washington – won a playoff series last year.

The Milwaukee Bucks represent the new blood. They were in the postseason two years ago, but only one player – Ersan Ilyasova – remains from that roster. And the weakness of the Eastern Conference has allowed the Bucks to go from the worst record in the NBA to a No. 6 seed with 41 wins.

The Chicago Bulls were supposed to be one of the favorites in the East. But injuries and a drop-off on defense have resulted in a disappointing season. They have all their pieces back together for the postseason, but haven’t had the time to build much consistency on either end of the floor.

This promises to be the ugliest series of the first round. The two teams combined to score just 95 points per 100 possessions in their four regular season meetings.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Bulls-Bucks, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Chicago Bulls (50-32)

Pace: 95.4 (21)
OffRtg: 104.7 (10)
DefRtg: 101.5 (11)
NetRtg: +3.3 (9)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Milwaukee: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls notes:


Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)

Pace: 96.5 (12)
OffRtg: 100.5 (25)
DefRtg: 99.3 (2)
NetRtg: +1.2 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bucks notes:

The matchup

Season series: Bulls won 3-1 (2-0 in Chicago).
Pace: 93.3
CHI OffRtg: 97.6 (17th vs. MIL)
MIL OffRtg: 91.8 (26th vs. CHI)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upset-minded East teams
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