Posts Tagged ‘Mike Miller’

More than ever, shooting at a premium


VIDEO: Pistons: Augustin And Butler Introduction

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if you want to win, you have to be able to shoot. There are lots of factors that go into good offense and good defense, but the most important are how well you shoot and how well you defend shots.

Over the last two seasons, 3-point shooting has taken a big jump. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the league took from 22.2 to 22.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range. Then in 2012-13, that number jumped to 24.3 percent. And last season, it jumped again to 25.9 percent.

The correlation between 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency is strong. And shooting a lot of threes is almost as important as shooting them well.

Ten of the top 15 offenses in the league were above average in terms of 3-point percentage and the percentage of their total shots that were threes. Four of the other five were in the top 10 in one or the other. And teams that didn’t shot threes well or often were generally bad offensive teams.

3-point shooting and offensive efficiency, 2013-14

Team 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank OffRtg Rank
L.A. Clippers 693 1,966 35.2% 22 29.1% 9 109.4 1
Miami 665 1,829 36.4% 12 29.2% 6 109.0 2
Dallas 721 1,877 38.4% 2 27.4% 13 109.0 3
Houston 779 2,179 35.8% 16 33.0% 1 108.6 4
Portland 770 2,071 37.2% 10 29.0% 10 108.3 5
San Antonio 698 1,757 39.7% 1 25.7% 16 108.2 6
Oklahoma City 664 1,839 36.1% 14 27.1% 14 108.1 7
Phoenix 765 2,055 37.2% 8 30.0% 5 107.1 8
Toronto 713 1,917 37.2% 9 28.5% 11 105.8 9
Minnesota 600 1,757 34.1% 26 24.5% 19 105.6 10
New York 759 2,038 37.2% 7 30.2% 3 105.4 11
Golden State 774 2,037 38.0% 4 29.1% 8 105.3 12
New Orleans 486 1,303 37.3% 6 19.3% 29 104.7 13
Brooklyn 709 1,922 36.9% 11 30.1% 4 104.4 14
Atlanta 768 2,116 36.3% 13 31.6% 2 103.4 15
Memphis 405 1,147 35.3% 19 17.1% 30 103.3 16
Denver 702 1,959 35.8% 15 27.8% 12 103.3 17
Washington 647 1,704 38.0% 5 24.6% 18 103.3 18
Detroit 507 1,580 32.1% 29 22.2% 26 102.9 19
Sacramento 491 1,475 33.3% 27 21.8% 28 102.9 20
L.A. Lakers 774 2,032 38.1% 3 29.1% 7 101.9 21
Indiana 550 1,542 35.7% 17 23.5% 23 101.5 22
Cleveland 584 1,640 35.6% 18 23.6% 21 101.3 23
Charlotte 516 1,471 35.1% 23 21.9% 27 101.2 24
Utah 543 1,577 34.4% 25 23.7% 20 100.6 25
Milwaukee 548 1,553 35.3% 20 23.1% 24 100.2 26
Boston 575 1,729 33.3% 28 25.1% 17 99.7 27
Chicago 508 1,459 34.8% 24 22.2% 25 99.7 28
Orlando 563 1,596 35.3% 21 23.5% 22 99.3 29
Philadelphia 577 1,847 31.2% 30 25.8% 15 96.8 30
TOTAL 19,054 52,974 36.0% 25.9% 104.0

 

Top 5 3P% Top 5 %FGA Top 5 OffRtg
6-10 3P% 6-10 %FGA 6-10 OffRtg
Above-avg 3P% Above-avg %FGA Above-avg OffRtg

%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. Minnesota had a top-10 offense without shooting threes well or often. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, getting to the free throw line often, and grabbing lots of offensive rebounds.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were top 10 in both 3-point percentage and percentage of shots that were threes, but were a bottom 10 offense overall, because they didn’t get to the line much and were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

Threes aren’t everything, but three is greater than two. And if you have shooting threats on the perimeter, other guys have more space to operate inside. The teams near the bottom of the table above know that to win more games, they have to score more efficiently. And to do that, they need more shooting in their rotation.

Here’s how some of them addressed their lack of shooting…

Detroit Pistons

OffRtg: 102.9 (19), 3PT%: 32.1% (29), 3PA%: 22.2% (26)
If the Sixers hadn’t played conscious-less offense at the league’s fastest pace, the Pistons would have ranked dead last in 3-point percentage. Josh Smith took 265 threes at a 26 percent clip, partly because Joe Dumars thought he could play small forward and partly because he lacks self-awareness. Of 315 players in NBA history who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, Smith ranks 314th (ahead of only Charles Barkley) in 3-point percentage.

So priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy is to get Smith to stop shooting threes, or get him to shoot threes for some other team. If we don’t consider Smith a small forward (and we shouldn’t), Detroit would have a frontcourt log-jam if Greg Monroe (a restricted free agent) is brought back. Though it’s not completely up to Van Gundy (he would need a trade partner), a choice between Monroe and Smith needs to be made.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t have many other options from beyond the arc last season. So Van Gundy added four shooters in free agency, signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to contracts that will pay them about $15 million this year. Of the 70 available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, those four ranked 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th respectively in 3-point percentage, all shooting better than 39 percent.

There’s still a question of how much of that shooting can be on the floor at one time. If Smith is traded, then the Pistons can play a decent amount of minutes with Butler or Luigi Datome playing stretch four. But in that scenario, their defense (which was already awful last season) would suffer.

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 99.7 (28), 3PT%: 34.8% (24), 3PA%: 22.2% (25)
The Pistons grabbed the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter from last season (Augustin), who will be replaced by Derrick Rose. Rose has never been a very good shooter, but obviously creates a lot more open shots for the guys around him than Augustin or Kirk Hinrich.

That will benefit Jimmy Butler (who regressed from distance last season), Mike Dunleavy (who took a smaller step back), Tony Snell (who was pretty shaky as a rookie) and rookie Doug McDermott.

In his four seasons in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau has never had a big man who can step out beyond the arc. But the Bulls’ other rotation rookie – Nikola Miroticshot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons for Real Madrid. So he gives the Bulls the ability to space the floor more than they ever have in this system.

The Bulls also added Aaron Brooks, who, at 38.7 percent, ranked 20th among available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. But if Brooks is playing a lot, it would mean that there’s another issue with Rose.

Charlotte Hornets

OffRtg: 101.2 (24), 3PT%: 35.1% (23), 3PA%: 21.9% (27)
Josh McRoberts (36.1 percent) and Marvin Williams (35.9 percent) shot about the same from 3-point range last season. But that was the first time McRoberts was a high-volume shooter from distance, while Williams has had a more consistent history.

And he should get more open shots playing off of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson than he did in Utah. But neither Walker nor Stephenson is a very good 3-point shooter themselves and the Hornets lost their best 3-point shooter from last season – Anthony Tolliver – in free agency.

The hope is that, with Stephenson taking some of the ball-handling burden away, Walker can improve as a shooter. Gerald Henderson‘s 3-point percentage has improved every season, and a healthy Jeffery Taylor could help. Still, without any much proven shooting on the roster, the Hornets’ offense has a ceiling.

Cleveland Cavaliers

OffRtg: 101.3 (23), 3PT%: 35.6% (18), 3PA%: 23.6% (21)
LeBron James changes everything. And the biggest beneficiary could be Dion Waiters, who shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season. With James attacking the basket and drawing multiple defenders, Waiters will get a ton of open looks.

James himself shot a ridiculous 48.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, so he should be able to play off Kyrie Irving pretty well and make the Cavs a more potent team from deep. Mike Miller (45.9 percent) will obviously do the same.

It’s Irving who will have to adjust to playing off the ball. He shot just 32.1 on catch-and-shoot threes last season. And at this point, the Cavs don’t have a second forward that can both shoot threes and defend the four (the Shane Battier role). Anthony Bennett could develop into that role and Kevin Love would obviously be that guy if the Cavs pull of a trade with Minnesota.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.5 (22), 3PT%: 35.7% (17), 3PA%: 23.5% (23)
There was a lot of bad shooting (and bad offense, in general) in the Central Division last season. The Pacers poached C.J. Miles (39 percent on threes over the last two seasons) from Cleveland and added a stretch big in Damjan Rudez, but lost Stephenson’s playmaking.

So there’s a ton of pressure on Paul George to create open shots for everybody else. Unless another shake-up is in store, it’s hard to see the Pacers escaping the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 103.3 (16), 3PT%: 35.3% (19), 3PA%: 17.1% (30)
The Grizzlies replaced Mike Miller (44.4 percent from three over the last three seasons) with Vince Carter (39.2 percent). That’s a slight downgrade from beyond the arc, but Carter brings more playmaking to take some of the load off of Mike Conley.

Still, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince remain integral parts of the Grizzlies’ rotation. So unless Jon Leuer emerges as a reliable stretch four off the bench, they lack the ability to put more than two (and occasionally three) shooters on the floor at once. They’ve ranked last in made 3-pointers for two straight seasons and could definitely make it three in a row.

New Orleans Pelicans

OffRtg: 104.7 (17), 3PT%: 37.3% (6), 3PA%: 19.3% (29)
Those are some strange numbers. Great shooting, but only the Grizzlies attempted fewer threes.

The absences of Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday over the last 50 games of the season was a huge issue. Another was that two of the Pelicans’ best 3-point shooters – Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow – played the same position and spent just 192 minutes on the floor together, while Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu – two perimeter guys who can’t shoot a lick – ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes played.

Evans still takes a starting perimeter position (and $11 million of salary) without supplying a reliable jumper. And replacing Jason Smith with Omer Asik also hurts floor spacing. But the Pels were ridiculously good offensively (and awful defensively) in limited minutes with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor last season, Aminu has been replaced by John Salmons, and better health will go a long way.

Additional notes

  • As noted above, the Pistons added four guys who ranked in the top 20 in 3-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts) among available free agents. The only other team that added (not re-signed) more than one was the Clippers, who added Jordan Farmar (3rd) and Spencer Hawes (5th). The Mavericks added Richard Jefferson (7th) and re-signed Dirk Nowitzki (13th), the Suns added Anthony Tolliver (6th) and re-signed P.J. Tucker (19th), and the Spurs re-signed both Patty Mills (4th) and Boris Diaw (10th).
  • The Cavs (Hawes and Miles) and Lakers (Farmar and Meeks) were the two teams that lost two of the top 20.
  • Of those 70 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only three shot above the league average (36.0 percent) and are still available. Those three are Chris Douglas-Roberts (38.6 percent), Ray Allen (37.5 percent) and Mo Williams (36.9 percent).

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Love willing to waive option | Report: Bledsoe turns down Suns’ $48M offer | Cavs trying to recruit Ray Allen? | Report: J-Smoove on block … for right price

No. 1: Report: Love willing to opt in if traded to Warriors — As was reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski (and also reported by ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard), Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James has reached out Minnesota Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love to let Love know he’d like him to join the Cavs. Doing so would likely require the Cavs parting with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, as Broussard, Wojnarowski and Bob Finnan of The News Herald & The Morning Journal all point out. Another team believed to be in the Love mix, the Golden State Warriors, may still have a shot at him, too. According to Yannis Koutroupis of BasketballInsiders.com, Love is willing to opt into his deal for 2015-16 if he’s dealt to Golden State:

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors are increasing their efforts to land Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love.

Love has recently been linked to trade talks with the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James has even reached out and voiced his desire to play with him according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The Cavaliers are willing to let go of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft Andrew Wiggins, but the Warriors are now willing to let go of Klay Thompson as well.

The Warriors have been trying to acquire Love without letting go of Thompson, but have come off of that stance because Love is willing to exercise his option for the 2015-16 season and put off becoming a free agent next summer according to a source.

David Lee and Harrison Barnes are expected to be a part of the deal as well. No trade is imminent, but the Warriors are willing to do whatever it takes to land Love now – even if that means letting go of a franchise favorite in Thompson.

This news, though, contradicts the reports of Wojnarowski and Broussard to an extent. Both reporters say Love would like to play alongside James and would even consider a long-term deal with Cleveland if such a trade were to materialize. In short, these trade talks remain as unclear as ever.


VIDEO:
The Starters talk the Warriors being in the Kevin Love trade rumors
(more…)

Mike Miller set to reunite with LeBron

LeBron James got his right-hand man back. No, not Dwyane Wade. Mike Miller, of course.

The 3-point sharpshooter reportedly turned down bigger offers from Houston and Denver to instead reunite with his Miami buddy in Cleveland. According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Miller has agreed to a two-year deal with the Cavaliers. The second year is a player option. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports the deal is worth $5.5 million.

Miller, 34, made huge plays and big shots for the Heat in both of their championship runs despite playing through a bad back and often looking like he was on his last leg. The Heat cut him loose last summer via the amnesty clause in a cost-cutting move that upset James, and Miami certainly missed Miller’s shooting in the lopsided Finals loss to the Spurs.

Meanwhile, Miller played an injury-free season, going the full 82 games in what has turned out to be a brief homecoming with Memphis. Miller shot 45.9 percent from beyond the arc and 48.1 percent overall for the Grizzlies while logging 20.8 mpg, five minutes a game more than he averaged in his final season with the Heat.

The Cavaliers will gladly accept Miller’s shooting touch off the bench. Cleveland finished 18th in the league last season at 35.6 percent from downtown. Its bench also ranked 18th from beyond the arc at 34.8 percent.

The Grizzlies had hoped to re-sign Miller, who played for Memphis from 2003 to 2008. Oklahoma City, which tried to sign Miller last year, also had shown interest in Miller, but signed Anthony Morrow.

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Riley puts heat on LeBron, Big 3 to ‘stay the course … and not run’


VIDEO: Heat boss Pat Riley is calling for everyone to “get a grip” and those who stay to reinvent themselves

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Fifty-five minutes of Pat Riley unfiltered is the off-the-court equivalent of watching a Game 7 of The Finals go to triple overtime. You don’t want a miss a second of the action.

The Miami Heat’s boss was in rare form this morning in his postseason news conference, explaining where the Heat stands now after losing in The Finals to the Spurs and where they are headed with the huge decisions looming for the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in advance of free agency this summer, should they choose to opt-out of their current deals and test the waters.

Riley’s message to them all was clear. But he might as well have FaceTimed LeBron or at least hit him on Skype when talked about the need to “stay the course” and not “run for the first open door.”

Wade and Bosh have already expressed publicly their desire to stay in Miami and continue a partnership that has produced four straight trips to The Finals and two title-winning campaigns. LeBron is the only one who has not hinted publicly about which way he is leaning.

Riley mentioned all of the great dynasties of the past and how many if not all of them failed more than they succeeded in their annual quests to win titles. He spoke of how hard the process can be and of the certain trials and tribulations that accompany the triumphs for those teams that stick together in their quest for Larry O’Brien trophies.

“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”

That’s tougher love than most men in Riley’s position are comfortable using. But most of those men don’t have the experience, backrground or list of accomplishments Riley has. Riley vowed to do whatever it takes to keep his crew together. He pointed to the Spurs and their bond that carried them from a crushing defeat in The Finals last year to a rematch this year and vengeance.

Riley called for mass reinvention, at least for everyone under 69 (his age) and the improvement from within that marked the Spurs’ spectacular run through the regular season and postseason.


VIDEO: Pat Riley talks about LeBron James and the Heat (more…)

Blogtable: Who’s the Big fourth?

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


BLOGTABLE: Tony Parker’s ankle | The big fourth | Your Finals call


> We know the Big Three on each side; who else do you see that could turn this series for his team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: For San Antonio, it can be fascinating seeing the impact Boris Diaw can have, particularly against LeBron James. The game’s greatest player is going from the East finals, where he had to worry about height (Roy Hibbert), to one where now he must be mindful of width (Diaw). Oh, and did I forget Kawhi Leonard? He might be most instrumental in making James work hard defensively. For Miami, I’m assuming Gregg Popovich has some Russian mobsters snatch Ray Allen in the middle of the series, never to be seen again. So I’ll go with Norris Cole, a serious pest and series-changer for the Heat with his tenacious D on Lance Stephenson. If Cole can pester Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili similarly, he can negate a lot of what that guy does for the Spurs attack.

Kawhi Leonard (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Kawhi Leonard (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comKawhi Leonard is potentially explosive on either side of the ball.  He’ll have the No. 1 task of guarding LeBron James and keeping him out of the middle and can be a game-wrecker for opponents with his long arms, large hands and disruptive ability.  On offense, Leonard is the constantly-moving-off-the-ball that can stick the 3 or go strong to the basket without ever having a play called for him.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Obviously, for the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard is a significant two-way player. He can pop you for 20 points on any given night, but it’s his defense on LeBron James that should be fascinating to watch. He’s a year older now, a Finals under his belt and look for him to be a dogged, dogged defender. Three-point specialist Danny Green can turn a game, which in turn can turn a series. His deal though is he is astoundingly more accurate at home (59.2 percent from deep in the playoffs) than on the road (31.3 percent), and the Heat got a serious taste of that last year. The guy that intrigues me most for the Heat is Rashard Lewis, who was dusted off in the Brooklyn series and finally started drilling 3s as a fill-in starter late in the Pacers series. The Heat would love it he could assume sort of the Mike Miller bench role, just seemingly always in the right place at the right time to pop a 3 or chase down a loose ball.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comTiago Splitter for the Spurs. The defense, a body inside to hit Miami where the Heat are vulnerable. And Shane Battier for the Heat. The man who can do a little bit of everything will want to go out with a good showing.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comKawhi Leonard may be the Spurs most important player in the series. The more he can defend LeBron James one-on-one without help, the better his team will be able to challenge the Heat’s shots on the perimeter. Offensively, Leonard is a better player than he was a year ago. So he can take some of the playmaking burden off of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and make James work on that end of the floor. The Heat, meanwhile, will need some production and defense from that other forward spot. The Spurs would love to be able to ignore a Heat player or two to focus on James, but if Rashard Lewis and/or Shane Battier can make some threes while holding their own defensively, Miami will be in great shape.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kawhi Leonard ranks as the most important non-Big 3 player on either team. If he can find a way to push LeBron James in ways that few guys have, on both ends of the floor, this series takes on an entirely different vibe. He’s been so much more aggressive during these playoffs offensively, attacking as much as Pop will allow, and that could force LeBron into the same situation the Pacers tried put him in against Paul George, only this time he wouldn’t be dealing with a guy 40 pounds lighter on the defensive end. Leonard could cause problems George could not and could swing this series in San Antonio’s favor if he can do it consistently.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me there’s more mystery on Miami’s sideline than there is with the Spurs. The Heat have no fear in dipping deep into their bench and finding a guy who may not have played in weeks, and then deploying him in big situations. So I wonder who else will step up for Miami? James Jones? Ray Allen? Shane Battier? Rashard Lewis? Maybe even Greg Oden or Mike Beasley? Somebody we’re not expecting to play big is going to have to be big for the Heat if they’re going to make this a three-peat.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Boris Diaw for the Spurs is going to be a big factor, just like he was against the Thunder. His numbers in 18 games in the 2014 postseason are already a lot better than the numbers he posted in the 2013 postseason. He is also playing more minutes this time around. Diaw allows the Spurs to play small ball against the Heat and provides better floor spacing to San Antonio compared to Tiago Splitter with Tim Duncan around. For Miami, Rashard Lewis is going to be key. If he plays like he did in those few games against the Pacers, then Miami has a chance. Remember, the Heat don’t have Mike Miller this season and Udonis Haslem is not what he was two or three seasons ago. So a strong contribution from Lewis will count for a lot.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Two names: Marco Belinelli and Ray Allen. Same reason: 3 pointers. I’m not picking Marco because he’s the first Italian ever to play in the NBA Finals and I’m the editor of NBA Italy, but because I know he wants some revenge after not playing at his best during the conference Finals. He can give so much off the bench: 3s, which the Spurs need, assists, some defense and some playmaking. He’s much more than what he did vs. Oklahoma City. Ray Allen was the hero in Spurs vs. Heat I because of that unbelievable 3-pointer that forced the OT in Game 6. The Heat need some reliable shooter beside the Big Three (they produce 61 of the 99 Heat’s points per game) and Ray is exactly that: an experienced, almost lethal sharpshooter chasing another ring.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: On the Spurs side? Kawhi Leonard! He’s just 22 years old, but he already has so much playoff experience. He improved this year again and got All-Defensive-Team honors. Leonard is the key. He can guard LeBron extremely well and showed this last year and with his versatility on the offensive end he’s a weapon that the heat has to take care off. On Miami, it is still Ray Allen. He did last year and he can do it again and again and again. His work ethic is still a role model for everyone in the league.

Numbers preview: The Finals


VIDEO: GameTime: Finals Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Considering how dramatic last year’s Finals was, now’s the perfect time for the first rematch in 16 years. The last time two teams faced each other in The Finals in back-to-back years was the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998.

We’re also returning to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for the first time since 1984. In the 29 years of the 2-3-2 format, the lower seed won all three games at home only three times (though the Heat did it in 2006 and 2012).

In these playoffs, the Spurs (9-1) and Heat (8-0) are a combined 17-1 at home, each scoring more than 116 points per 100 possessions. That’s ridiculously good offense, and we’re sure to see some more of it over the next 4-7 games.

These were two of the top six offensive teams in the regular season and have been the two best offensive teams in the playoffs. Comparing their offensive efficiency in each round with their opponents’ regular-season defensive numbers, both the Spurs and Heat have improved offensively during the playoffs.

The Heat (11th) are the first team since the 2006 Mavericks (11th) to make The Finals after not ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. And they’re aiming to be the first team since the 2001 Lakers (19th) to win the title after not ranking in the top 10.

The Spurs ranked in the top four defensively for the second straight season after sliding out of the top 10 the previous two. That they played more consistently on that end of the floor over the last seven months could give them the edge, as the team that can most consistently slow down the other over the next two weeks will win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

But postseason series are often about matchups, and the Heat have the ultimate trump card in LeBron James. If it seems like this series could be decided by a possession or two, you only have to look back at last year’s to confirm that it certainly could.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding these two teams’ paths to The Finals, their two regular season meetings, and last year’s scintillating series.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

First round: Beat Dallas in 7 games.
West semifinals: Beat Portland in 5 games.
West finals: Beat Oklahoma City in 6 games.
Pace: 96.2 (4)
OffRtg: 111.2 (2)
DefRtg: 101.0 (2)
NetRtg: +10.1 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs by round

Round Opp. OffRtg Rank AdjO DefRtg Rank AdjD
First round DAL 110.2 3 +4.3 106.8 9 -2.2
Conf. semis POR 112.3 2 +7.5 93.9 1 -14.3
Conf. finals OKC 111.4 2 +10.4 100.7 1 -7.4

AdjO = OffRtg – opponent’s regular-season DefRtg
AdjD = DefRtg – opponent’s regular-season OffRtg

Playoff notes:

  1. Opponents have attempted just 25 free throws per 100 shots, the lowest opponent FTA rate of the playoffs. But their opponent free-throw rate has increased in each round, from 0.217 against Dallas to 0.233 against Portland and 0.303 against Oklahoma City.
  2. Their defensive rebounding percentage has improved each round.
  3. Their rate of 9.7 turnovers per 100 possessions in the conference semifinals against Portland has been the lowest turnover rate for any team in any series so far.
  4. According to SportVU, they lead the postseason with an effective field-goal percentage of 59.5 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
  5. They’ve scored 124.0 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter, more than any other playoff team has scored in any quarter.
  6. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with Danny Green on the floor. That’s the best on-court NetRtg of any player that has logged at least 20 minutes per game in five or more playoff games.
  7. Kawhi Leonard has the best raw plus-minus of the playoffs at plus-111.
  8. Marco Belinelli is the only Spurs rotation player with a negative plus-minus. They’ve been outscored by 42 points in his 296 minutes on the floor and are a plus-186 in his 572 minutes on the bench. In the regular season, Belinelli had a better on-court NetRtg (plus-7.3) than Tim Duncan (plus-6.6) or Tony Parker (plus-6.7).
  9. Green has an effective field-goal percentage of 63.4 percent in the playoffs, a jump of 7.2 percent from his regular season mark (56.2). That’s the biggest EFG% jump of any player who has attempted at least 75 shots in the postseason.
  10. Duncan had 14 more rebounds than any other player in the conference finals.
  11. Manu Ginobili shot 15-for-30 (50 percent) from 3-point range in the conference finals after shooting 2-for-14 (14 percent) in the conference semifinals.
  12. The usage rates of Ginobili (28.9 percent, 25.9 percent, 23.8 percent) and Parker (31.8 percent, 30.4 percent, 25.0 percent) have decreased in each round. The usage rates of Duncan (19.9 percent, 20.2 percent, 25.4 percent), Boris Diaw (14.4 percent, 16.2 percent, 21.4 percent) and Green (11.7 percent, 17.1 percent, 17.8 percent) have increased in each round.
  13. Parker leads the postseason with 195 drives and 10.8 drives per game.
  14. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 27.1 points per 100 possessions in 114 minutes with Ginobili, Leonard and Tiago Splitter on the floor together, the best three-man NetRtg among 194 trios that have logged at least 100 minutes.
  15. Patty Mills has traveled at the fastest average speed in the playoffs, 4.9 miles per hour.

(more…)

Durant goes decoy … and gets iced

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Grizzlies outlast the Thunder in OT in Game 5

OKLAHOMA CITY – This first-round series, so close now to slipping away from the Oklahoma City Thunder, is testing Kevin Durant‘s limits and his patience as it volleys from the strange to the surreal and now to the truly bizarre.

For the first time in NBA history, a playoff series has had four consecutive overtime games. The suffocating Memphis Grizzlies have won three, including Tuesday’s 100-99 thriller in which the game’s most devastating scorer and sure-fire MVP amazingly served as a decoy for the majority of the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.

Then in overtime came the incredible. After Durant made the first of two free throws to close to a one-point deficit with 27.6 seconds left, veteran referee Joey Crawford took the ball from Durant’s hands at the stripe, marched to the scorer’s table and instructed the scoreboard operator to show that both teams were in the bonus on the overheard scoreboard.

“I looked at KD and we were both like, ‘What is Joey doing,’ we had no idea,” Memphis guard Mike Conley said. “But, hey, I guess it worked.”

Durant, an 87.3-percent foul shooter, missed the potential game-tying free throw, and the game ended with that same one-point differential. A few moments later his 3-point attempt to win thudded off the back iron and Serge Ibaka‘s breathtaking put-back was ruled too late after a replay review.

“I was just trying to stay focused and knock the free throw down. Unfortunately, I didn’t,” said Durant, who missed half of his six free throw attempts in the game. “I don’t know what happened. I have to make that free throw.”

Said OKC coach Scott Brooks: “It was an awkward situation, I’ll tell you that.”

But that’s not all that was awkward in a game that game the The No. 7-seed Grizzlies blew a 20-point third-quarter lead, but hung on to take a 3-2 series lead. Mike Miller provided the difference for Memphis with 21 points that included five 3-pointers. Memphis can eliminate the No. 2-seed Thunder at home on Thursday night.

Yet to discover his rhythm this series, Durant buried a deep 3-pointer with 6:46 to go in regulation that gave OKC its first lead of the game, 79-78. The crowd erupted and seemed to sense an elusive Durant scoring binge brewing at just the right time. Only he never got the chance.

Brooks instead pushed Durant to the weakside corner on possession after possession in an attempt to space the floor for Game 4 hero Reggie Jackson and cold-shooting point guard Russell Westbrook.

“Sometimes you have to be a decoy out there. I’m fine with that,” Durant said. “If I want the ball I got to go rebound it and bring it up on the break. I trust my teammates with whatever decisions they make. I just got to do better for them.”

To get a touch in the final minutes of a nip-and-tuck, pivotal playoff game, the league’s four-time scoring champ has to get a defensive rebound and bring it up the floor himself?

“We had some plays where he has to space the floor,” Brooks said of Durant. “We were giving Reggie some opportunities. We did that in the game before and we were able to get into the paint and create easy opportunities. They did a good job of guarding it.”

Durant didn’t get a shot off on 12 consecutive possessions. He touched it only three times. Meanwhile, Caron Butler, Derek Fisher and Westbrook combined to miss five of six 3-point attempts. The one Butler made, he was also fouled and converted the Thunder’s third four-point play of the series, without which, this series wouldn’t be the overtime bonanza that it is.

Durant’s next opportunity came as the clock ticked below one minute to go and he lost it trying to slice into the lane. His next shot finally came with 33.9 seconds left, more than six minutes after his lead-grabbing 3. He missed. Durant took five shots while playing all 12 minute of the fourth quarter.

As confounding as that may be, the Thunder have a laundry list of issues to address if they hope to bring this series back to OKC. Durant, one of the most efficient scorers throughout the season, is staring at the prospect of becoming the first MVP — his winning seems only a formality now — since Dirk Nowitzki (of the 2007 Mavericks) got the award after his team was ousted from the playoffs.

Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen and the Grizzlies’ defense have managed to take Durant out of his comfort zone just as they did in last year’s conference semifinals when Westbrook was injured. Westbrook’s dynamic playmaking ability was supposed to change that this time around.

Instead both have dented the rim far more than worn out the nets. Durant finished 10-for-24 in Game 5 for 26 points. He had just two assists and six turnovers. He’s now 50-for-125 in the series (40 percent) and 12-for-42 from beyond the arc (28.6 percent).

Westbrook delivered a triple-double Sunday that spanned the spectrum of amazing to dreadful. He finished with 30 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. He was 10-for-31 from the floor and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. He made what might have been the play of the game, picking Conley’s pockets and going in for the game-tying dunk with four seconds left, but then was guilty of allowing Conley to blow by him twice early in the OT.

There is little flow to the Thunder offense. Westbrook has too often played recklessly and launched too many shots in the early portion of the shot clock. Durant is being well-defended, but also seems to have lost the killer confidence that defined his historic run this season.

The frustration is mounting and time is running out.

The ongoing Durant-Westbrook issue: meshing or co-existing?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Russell Westbook (left) and Kevin Durant (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Russell Westbook (left) and Kevin Durant (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

MEMPHIS – As problems go, this is not earth-shaking. But for the Oklahoma City Thunder, it is a matter they have to address.

Are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook maxing out their potential together? And are the Thunder maxing out their potential with the two of them?

Two questions, one issue that has swirled about the Thunder and their two all-NBA stars for several seasons. Sometimes it focuses on speculation of feuds or clashing personalities, sometimes on a hypothetical struggle for primacy.

Always, it springs from a desire to gauge the synergy generated by their world-class talents.

It remains a work in progress, both micro (the Thunder are locked in a 2-2 showdown with Memphis in their best-of-seven series, which continues in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night at 9 on NBA TV) and macro. Durant and Westbrook think they blend just fine, as far as what they’ve said publicly. Same goes for coach Scott Brooks, who even privately – or at least away from the glare of camera lights and microphones – sees no conflict.

Brooks thinks it’s a little reactionary, frankly, given Oklahoma City’s success. From their first season together (2008-09) through their fifth, the team’s winning percentage has climbed each year, starting low at .280 but soaring last season to .732. If you want to pick nits about a dip to .720 this season, know that it was due to winning 59 this season rather than 60, numbers any coach not named Popovich would welcome. (more…)

‘Iron Man’ Mike Miller? Surprisingly so

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

VIDEO: Mike Miller is still a sharpshooter from 3

MEMPHIS, – Had Kendrick Perkins sat on Mike Miller at any point in the past three seasons the way he did Thursday night in Game 3 of the Oklahoma City-Memphis playoff series, a team of EMTs immediately would have rushed to the court carrying a Gulliver-esque spatula. Whatever parts of Miller hadn’t already gone splat would have been scraped up and deposited in the Grizzlies’ trainers room, perhaps not to be seen again until preseason camp.

But here in 2014, that Miller – the one held together with duct tape and baling wire when he managed to play, which wasn’t all that often – is gone. He’s been replaced by one who can laugh off Perkins’ little in-game sitdown and, more important for Memphis, by a guy who did this:

Played in all 82 games.

Miller spent three seasons with the Heat without ever doing that. He topped out at 59 appearances last season and managed to play in only 80 games in 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined. He missed the start of the post-lockout season in December 2011 recovering from sports hernia surgery, and he has had chronic back problems for quite a while. There have been times when Miller, so valuable as a floor spreader and 3-point shooter but so fragile, seemed like he might bruise from a stiff breeze.

Yet here he is at 34, getting healthier. He hadn’t played in 82 since his 2000-01 rookie season in Orlando.

Had Miami known he would be so downright durable, it might have found some way to keep him rather than amnestying the final two years and $12.8 million of his contract last July. (LeBron James and crew hated losing him, but the move did save the Heat about $17 million in luxury tax.) Miller double-dipped by signing with Memphis for the veteran’s minimum of about $1.4 million.

“To be honest, I was healthy last year,” Miller said before the Grizzlies’ practice Friday at FedEx Forum. “It’s just that, when you’re playing behind Hall of Famers, you don’t get that opportunity. I went through a lot with my back and obviously with the sports hernia and stuff like that, but I was fully recovered last year. And just continually got better. I haven’t put a lot of mileage on my body the last three years.”

Miller was available enough in the 2012 playoffs to help Miami win the first championship of its Big Three era. He went 7-for-8 from the arc and scored 23 points in the Game 5 title clincher against Oklahoma City.

Last spring, Miller helped the Heat win again, starting four games in The Finals against San Antonio, shooting 59.1 percent overall and 11-for-18 (61.1) on 3-pointers. But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was leery of Miller breaking down and kept him carefully on the shelf for stretches of the regular season.

No kid gloves for Miller in Memphis, though. He averaged 20.8 minutes, more than in any of his Heat seasons, and ranked second in the NBA in hitting 45.9 percent of his 3-pointers (53.8 percent after the All-Star break).

And get this: Only 23 players in NBA history have played a full 82-game schedule in their 14th season or later.

“He’s been tremendous,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s done a great job with his body in the offseason, just staying lean and staying in shape. He’s done that without pounding on his body.

“You can try to be in great shape but you can do things to your body that just wear it down. He did a great job of keeping himself fresh in the offseason, and our training staff has done a good job with him all season.”

Staying lean without pounding? Sounds like swimming and yoga.

“It pretty much is,” Miller said, laughing. “I didn’t do the swimming part, but I’ve done the 10,000 reps [in the weight room]. I used to do three or four hours in the gym. A lot of that is the reason why my back and stuff were bad.

“Now it’s more maintenance. It’s about coming in here and taking care of my body. Shoot as limited as possible, really. And then getting out in the game and having fresh mind and fresh body.”