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Numbers notes: Cavaliers and Warriors among most improved


VIDEO: Curry’s big night vs. the Clippers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The two teams that reached The Finals in June aren’t just off to strong starts. No, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are two of the most improved teams in the league, statistically.

We’re just 10 days into the 2015-16 season, with only 74 (six percent) of 1,230 games in the books. So far, there have been some surprising results, some disappointments, and a lot of teams playing much faster than they did last season.

It’s still too early to draw any real conclusions from what we’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore it. If everything is put in context, it’s certainly worth looking into the numbers this early.

We’ll spare the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Rockets this week, and focus on the positive. Here are some notes on the league’s most improved teams and players through 10 days …

Most improved offenses

20151106_impr_offrtg

  • Charlotte has turned some mid-range shots into 3-pointers, which will help long term. But their top-5 ranking is a result of two good offensive games this week after scoring less than a point per possession in their first three. They ranked last in both field goal percentage in the restricted area and in 3-point percentage last season, so they had nowhere to go but up.
  • If Golden State remains one of the league’s most improved offensive teams, they will challenge the ’96 Bulls record of 72 wins. You’ll see the MVP in the most improved shooters list below, but where the Warriors have improved most is in turnover rate and free throw rate. Those two numbers are more likely (than shooting or rebounding) to stay consistent from a team’s first five games through the full season. So that’s kind of scary.
  • New York was looking to run in its first three games, and more shots early in the clock gave their offense a boost. But here are their fast break points, by game: 19, 17, 10, 0, 0. They need to get back in the open floor.

Most improved defenses

20151106_impr_defrtg

Most improved shooters

20151106_impr_efg

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo improved his mid-range shooting in the second half of last season, but this improvement isn’t a continuation of that. He’s taken only three shots from mid-range this season, with 40 of his 54 shots coming in the restricted area. More layups = better shooting.
  • It’s not fair that Stephen Curry ranks as the third most improved shooter this season. But shooting 58 percent (19-for-33) on pull-up threes isn’t sustainable … maybe. Curry shot 42 percent on pull-up threes last season.
  • Blake Griffin is a mean 24-for-28 (86 percent) in the restricted area and an improved 21-for-45 (47 percent) from mid-range. The mid-range number is the more important one. Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper, but 47 percent (Dirk Nowitzki‘s career mark) is about as good as it gets from mid-range, where Griffin is still taking almost half of his shots.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors seek that ‘next level’ of play | Kobe gets break from practice after postgame rant | Emotions high at Wolves home opener | Rondo enjoying ‘underdog’ status

No. 1: Warriors all about that ‘next level’ of play — Just four games into the season of defending their NBA title, the Golden State Warriors are a team everyone is targeting (and everyone wants to play like). Our Fran Blinebury raised a good question the other day: will reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry surpass the season he put up in 2014-15? The better question is: are the Warriors as a whole better than they were in their dominant 2014-15 campaign? Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com was on hand for last night’s 50-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies and reports that surpassing 2014-15 is all part of the plan for Golden State:

Draymond Green stood before the media, arms akimbo, and gave the motto. “The one thing coming into training camp, Coach Kerr’s one go-to line was ‘next level,'” he declared. “Next level in the offense, next level in the defense, next level in focus, next level in intensity.”

This level isn’t supposed to exist. After a 67-win season and subsequent championship, the Golden State Warriors weren’t expected to get better. That’d be lunacy, especially in a climate in which many basketball pundits are still slow to accept last season’s greatness. Lunacy might be reality, though.

After beating their first four opponents by more than anyone has (plus-100), after strangling the Memphis Grizzlies into a 26-of-96 shooting night and 50-point loss — 119-69 — the champs are looking better than ever. They’re doing it without head coach Steve Kerr and center Andrew Bogut, and both could return at any moment.

Stephen Curry has been beyond impressive, scoring more points (148) through the first four games than anyone other than Michael Jordan. He has also done this in 127 minutes on 84 shots.

“It’s about us, it’s not about sending a message really,” Curry said of Golden State’s recent approach. It’s easy to draw conclusions from how the Warriors have battered four former playoff opponents, but Curry insists their motivation is internal. “We know that we’re capable of being a better team than we were last year. We have so much potential in here and so much talent that we don’t want to waste it.”

The Golden State defense has grown more comfortable, and they’re dabbling in new tactics. This early season has seen a lot of blitzing double teams from the baseline and traps further out. When asked about the trapping, Golden State assistant coach and defensive coordinator Ron Adams said, “We’re being a little more active this year in that regard.” He continued, “We can play in different ways defensively. I would say this about our defense: I think we have grown, and we’re still growing. That’s exciting.”

“I think we’re trying to get to that next level,” Green repeated, “but there are still more levels to get to.”


VIDEO: Warriors impress in rout of Grizzlies

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Blogtable: Most entertaining team to watch in 2015-16?

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: Top international newcomer? | Most entertaining team? | Too many preseason games?



VIDEOWho are the must-watch teams on League Pass in 2015-16?

> The ________ will be the most entertaining team to watch this season, and here’s why.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Warriors. They already were, and they brought the band back together. Steph Curry spent the summer trying to become even more efficient, and dropped 40 on New Orleans in the opener. The second and third years in a new offense are when a truly smart and skilled team blossoms. Which means trouble for the other 29 teams.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: For the second straight season, the NBA’s most entertaining team probably will be its best team — the Golden State Warriors. A club like the Clippers might pack more personality and purists might find entertainment value in the care and nurturing of a young, developing crew such as Milwaukee or Orlando. Personally, I still get my kicks watching 40 percent of the Memphis Grizzlies – that is, big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol playing old-millennium ball in a 3-crazed NBA. But night in, night out, for pace and production and their undersized leader out top (Steph Curry), Golden State is sports’ DWTS.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The defending-champion Golden State Warriors. Have we forgotten so quickly, the ball movement, the shot-making the versatility, the sheer beauty of the Warriors that practically begged for a musical score in the background?  Play it again, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. I considered the Thunder because it’s Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka joined by the uncertainty of a new coach, and that wonder of how Billy Donovan will work out adds to the good theater. But c’mon. Golden State is a fun watch anyway, and now the defending champs have the entire league chasing them … while hearing about how the title was luck … and firing back at doubters … with a coach who routinely dishes snark. That’s entrainment.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Thunder. So much at play here, with Kevin Durant returning and seeking to restore his MVP glow, and how Russell Westbrook tries to top what he did the last three months of last season, and what Billy Donovan has in store for a system. Oh, and there’s also the backdrop of KD’s pending free agency. To me, entertainment means points and wins and showdown games against top competition, and OKC will hit that trifecta.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors are the easy answer, and the Thunder are a distant second. But in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards could be Warriors Light. John Wall can’t shoot anything like Stephen Curry, but he’s one of the league’s best passers who will thrive with more space to operate. If Bradley Beal and Otto Porter can build on their postseason performances, this can be a pretty potent offense led by one of the league’s five best point guards.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Clippers have all the ingredients you need to be the No. 1 reality TV show in basketball, both on and off the court. They’ll be the most interesting team to watch, as coach Doc Rivers tries to tinker with the chemistry of a championship-caliber group that has added three ridiculously strong personalities in Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. This is still Chris Paul‘s team, but he might have to share the leadership load with others in ways that he has not been accustomed to recently. They’ll put on a show when they are at their high-flying best.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Clippers are going to be the edgiest and therefore most entertaining team. Their impatience will be their strength: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are fed up with hearing about what they haven’t done, while DeAndre Jordan, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith all want to be taken seriously. They are going to play with more attitude than any rival contender.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHere’s the thing: Whichever team is the correct answer to this question is a team we aren’t talking about right now. Last season the Atlanta Hawks quickly evolved into a sweet passing tribute to Jogo Bonito, which transformed them into darlings of the basketball nerd set. And then there are the young teams that play entirely on spirit and fire with a style that may be unsustainable, but no less watchable. So I’ll take a guess and say a team that might be worth tuning in for, if healthy, will be the Minnesota Timberwolves. Between Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine performing nightly high-wire acts, Ricky Rubio splashing the ball around with abandon, and Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, what’s not to like?

Blogtable: Top international newcomer?

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: Top international newcomer? | Most entertaining team? | Too many preseason games?



VIDEOMario Hezonja finishes the fast break with authority

> There are 100 international players on NBA opening-night rosters. But who’s the top international newcomer we should keep an eye on, the player who’s going to have a huge impact on the league this season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Emmanuel Mudiay. He’s going to be dynamic in Denver once his head clears and he gets used to the speed of the NBA game. Mike Malone will give him the ball and push through his mistakes. A lot of talent and potential there.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHuge impact? I’m not sure any international newcomer is going to be able to qualify by that standard. But the one I’m most intrigued to track is Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica. The 27-year-old Serbian forward was the 2015 Euroleague MVP and is said to possess an NBA-ready offensive game, not just as a shooter but as a facilitator. Then there is his nickname: Professor Big Shots. I know NBA broadcasters are pulling for Bjelica to live up to that over here, just so they can substitute it for attempts to pronounce his name. Assuming Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell gives him sufficient minutes in the rotation.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI’m not sure “huge impact” is the right description. But I’ll definitely be watching Mario Hezonja in Orlando. The 6-foot-8 forward from Croatia is quick, athletic, fearless and downright cocky. He’ll make shots. He’ll make plays. He’ll make his teammates angry at times by going off the reservation. He’ll make highlight reels. As they used to say in the old days at Disney World, he’s an “E-ticket ride.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAt the risk of getting into semantics, but also the actual answer, no newcomer will have a huge impact this season. But a couple names that fit into the keep-an-eye-on category: Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks and Mario Hezonja of the Magic. Porzingis has a slight edge in immediate impact because he will have more opportunities in New York, even on the same frontline as scorer Carmelo Anthony, than Hezonja will have while trying to push his way to the forefront on an Orlando roster with Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon. But I would not be surprised if both have that huge impact you’re looking for, just un future seasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com I’m not sure if any newcomer will have what can be defined as a huge impact, but I’ll be mostly curious about Mario Hezonja in Orlando. This kid has some swagger about him, won’t hesitate to fire away and will dunk in your grill if he gets the chance. Does Emmanuel Mudiay qualify asa n international newcomer? If so, then him as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The only international newcomer who could possibly have a “huge” impact on this season is Kristaps Porzingis, and that’s if he’s not making an impact at all. If Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks decide that Porzingis’ timeline doesn’t match that of Anthony, they could demand (in Anthony’s case) or explore (in the Knicks’ case) a trade by the deadline. So Porzingis would have then indirectly changed the landscape of the league. Among those that aren’t going to make much of an impact, I’ve long been a fan of Marcelo Huertas‘ pick-and-roll passing, though he might be driven crazy by the Lakers’ second-unit gunners.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kristaps Porzingis has enough upside for 100 newcomers, but I’m going with Mario Hezonja in Orlando. He showed off skills in summer league that opened eyes around the league. The bounce and confidence definitely stood out. His willingness to challenge anybody at the rim really impressed me. Even with his deep shooting range, the trait that will serve him best this season is his fearlessness. He’ll need it playing for coach Scott Skiles, who has a history of being extremely tough on rookies. As for the huge impact, I don’t see “huge” happening for any of these guys.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI don’t know if his impact will be huge, but the best international newcomer is going to be Kristaps Porzingis. He is a longterm project, of course, but his shooting range and length advantage will enable him to help the Knicks as a rookie – and they’re going to need him as they show improvement from last year’s 65-loss season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog I’m not big on the Magic for this season — they are in a tough spot, trying to climb their way up through a highly competitive division — but I love their newcomer Mario Hezonja. A 20-year-old guard from Croatia, Hezonja plays as though nobody’s told him he’s not supposed to be doing the things he does on the court. Oh, you want to drive and dunk on someone? Do it, Super Mario. I know the Magic have Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton in the backcourt and that’s the future they’re building on, but I think it’s going to be tough to keep Hezonja off the floor.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 27


VIDEO: Sekou Smith digs in on why the 2015-16 season will be great

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron, Rose ready to go in opener  | Report: Carlisle, Mavs negotiating extension | Taylor discusses Saunders’ passing | Ainge in it for long haul with Celtics

No. 1: LeBron OK to go in opener; Rose ready for opener, too — Well, after months of waiting, the season is FINALLY here. And what better way to start things off than with a matchup between two Eastern Conference heavyweights — the defending conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who take on their longtime rival, the Chicago Bulls (8 ET, TNT). The best thing about the matchup may be that former MVPs LeBron James and Derrick Rose, both slowed by injury in the preseason, are ready to go and neither is expected to be on a minutes limit.

James spoke about his status after practice, which we’ll turn to Tom Withers of the Associated Press for more:

After sitting out nearly two weeks since undergoing an anti-inflammatory injection, James was able to fully participate in Cleveland’s practice for the second straight day and said he’ll play Tuesday in the season opener at Chicago.

“I feel good,” James said following Monday’s workout at Cleveland Clinic Court. “I’m ready to go. I’ll be active tomorrow.”

James had been limited in practice since receiving the shot Oct. 13, the second injection he has gotten in 10 months. The four-time MVP took some contact Sunday and said the big test would be how he responded after the workout. Although he didn’t get into any specifics, James feels good enough to take on the Bulls.

The 30-year-old was asked if he ever worried he’d have to miss the opener.

“Nope,” he said.

“He won’t have a specific limit minutes-wise,” coach David Blatt said. “On the other hand, we will be cautious and careful and not overplay.”

“We’re not going to put too much on the first game of the season,” James said. “We’ve put in a lot of work over the last few weeks, and you can only try to get healthy, work your habits, work your rhythm and our last few practices have been very good. But you don’t put too much onus on if this will be the team that we’ll be long-term tomorrow.”

The Cavs will begin the season missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who is still recovering from surgery on a broken kneecap and may be weeks away from his debut. Cleveland will welcome back forward Kevin Love, who missed most of the playoffs after dislocating his left shoulder in the first round against Boston.

“I did everything leading up to be ready for this,” said Love, who re-signed with the Cavs as a free agent this summer. “My body feels good and now is just the time to get to work for the real thing.”

And here’s Sam Smith of Bulls.com, who caught up with Rose after practice about the upcoming season:

I was reminded Monday after Bulls practice about Jerry’s mom from the Seinfeld series. She’d heard about “Crazy” Joe Davola not liking Jerry. She’s stunned, in disbelief. “How can anyone not like you!” she exclaims. “Doesn’t like you? How can that be?”

And then there was Derrick Rose Monday concluding another long media session in the Advocate Center and being asked about having to endure yet another setback, his fourth surgery in the last four years, though expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday when the Bulls open the 2015-16 NBA season against the Cleveland Cavaliers on national TNT.

“It’s part of it,” Rose said. “It’s a big picture. I’ve got to take the good with the bad and the ugly. It was ugly when I started training camp. Like I said, taking the good, how my life has been. I’ve been so comfortable; my family has been so comfortable, everybody is enjoying their life. It’s a lot of positives and a lot of blessings that come with playing this sport. Getting hit in the eye, all these surgeries, I’ve got to take it. This game changed my life too much.

“I don’t think I have to prove anything to anyone,” said Rose. “It’s just all about having fun. Enjoying the game, appreciating the game. Seeing how far this game has taken me. How comfortable my life is as far as I’m able to focus on certain things, focus on my profession without any distractions. I just feel blessed. I’m not expecting anything (Tuesday). I’m just expecting to win the game. For myself, I don’t care. As long as we win the game, I’m fine.”

I hear plenty of discussion, national and local about the Bulls, and so much is about Rose and that he doesn’t relate to his team and is some sort of distraction and it’s some fight over whose team it is and should be and some lack of respect and regard for all that is holy and good in the world. I have defended Rose plenty in the past. So full disclosure, as the saying goes, is warranted. But I never quite get this level of media and public outrage directed toward him.

All I see is a guy who works relentlessly to get back and play basketball.

It’s all he wants to do.

Rose meets with media as much or more than anyone on the Bulls, at least when he is not in rehabilitation. He answers questions with sincerity and often humor. After the game in Nebraska last week he did group and individual interviews. He obviously has a strong faith as I have never heard him blame anyone for his injuries or ask why it befell him.

And now he’ll be in the starting lineup and open the season Tuesday against tormentor LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I’m very excited, very excited as far as what I just went through as far as the surgery, and just how much I miss the game,” said Rose. “My appreciation for the game just grew. My faith grew as far as all this is out of my hands. I can’t control this. I’ve just got to go along and take the good with the bad.’’

And because Rose is playing and in good health and basically of positive attitude, the Bulls again have a chance to defeat the Cavaliers.

“I’m just happy to be back playing again, so it really doesn’t matter,” Rose told reporters when hearing for the first time he’d be starting Tuesday following coach Fred Hoiberg’s comments to media. “It’s (left eye) still blurry a little bit. But every day, like I said, it’s improving. It’s a slow process. A little bit (of double vision still) when I look certain places. But if I concentrate really hard or focus on it a little harder, I can see more things at certain times. I see side-to-side, but usually when I look certain places I see double still. When I play I just play with one eye. Close the other eye until my vision is back clearer. I just close one eye and just go out there and play. It worked out for me.’’

“If anything (the surgery) helped me recover with my body,” said Rose, putting a positive spin on getting his face broken. “It helped me focus on other things, like my ankles and my hips, getting them loose and staying loose. As far as massages and all that stuff, I made sure I got the maintenance for my body.

“I think my body is fit for (the season) now,” said Rose. “I lost a couple of pounds. Last year I was at 212. This year I’m at 203. Same weight I was when I won MVP. So feel a bit lighter. And who knows? The way I was able to drive the ball [Friday playing 10 minutes against the Mavs with eight points], it felt good driving, and like I said, it boosted my confidence a little bit.

“Since the first day, I really haven’t had a problem with (wearing the protective mask),” said Rose. “When I’m playing I’m so focused on the game that you really don’t know that you have it on until there’s a timeout or something like that and you’ve got to wipe it off. But other than that I don’t care.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks about his status for tonight’s opener

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 24


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s preseason action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

‘Big Thaw’ behind Popovich/Team USA pick | Rose Bullish on Hoiberg offense | Barnes calls out media ‘half truth’ | Holdout over, Thompson happy, healthy, wealthy

No. 1: ‘Big Thaw’ behind Popovich/Team USA pick — Just because Gregg Popovich was an obvious choice to take over as the next head coach of Team USA doesn’t mean he was an easy choice. Popovich’s NBA resume, built on his belief in international players and basketball as a universal language, and his global inclinations dating back to the Air Force Academy made him the logical successor to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, as our own Fran Blinebury explained. But there was a back story to Friday’s announcement involving the San Antonio coach and Jerry Colangelo, chairman of USA Basketball, that played out over a decade before the tumblers all fell into place. Adrian Wojnarowksi of Yahoo! Sports pulled back the curtain:

Just over a year ago in Chicago, Gregg Popovich raised the question with commissioner Adam Silver at the annual NBA coaches meeting: How did the USA Basketball national coaching job turn into a lifetime appointment for a college coach?

“Isn’t an NBA coach good enough to coach NBA players?” is one of the queries to Silver that peers in the room remembered Pop asking of the commissioner.

Pop offered several candidates, including Doc Rivers, as deserving of a chance to coach the Olympic team. All around Pop, NBA head coaches nodded with agreement. Popovich never offered his own name, though.

Popovich had once wanted the job, but would never campaign now – and truthfully never thought it possible as long as Jerry Colangelo was running USA Basketball.

Popovich and Colangelo had a decade-long cold war that started to thaw with a telephone call in March, league sources told Yahoo Sports on Friday. Colangelo finally reached out to Popovich to measure his interest in replacing Krzyzewski as the national coach in 2017. There would be no process, no competition. Pop had earned the right, but the question he and Colangelo had to answer, as one source with knowledge of the process said, “Could they work together?”

As those around Colangelo and Popovich understood, these two men had never had the opportunity to get to know each other, and maybe that was worth exploring before fully abandoning the idea of Popovich for the job. Popovich’s relationship with Adam Silver is much stronger than his with Stern, much more trust exists there. That helped, too.

Truth be told, how could Silver and Colangelo explain passing on Popovich again? They couldn’t – and Popovich needed to come to the conversations also with an open mind.

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No. 2: Rose bullish on Hoiberg offense — There’s no pinning down Chicago’s Derrick Rose when it comes to his injuries. Sometimes when folks, even his own team, expect him to return in a timely fashion, his rehab and recovery require more time, occasionally a lot more time. And then, when he is said to still have double vision as a result of a left orbital fracture suffered in the Bulls’ first practice of training camp, he manages to play anyway. Rose got on the court for 11 minutes against Dallas in Chicago’s preseason finale, darted to the rim for three layups and was effusive about the pace and potential of the team’s offense as coached by newcomer Fred Hoiberg. Sam Smith of Bulls.com chronicled the results from Lincoln, Neb.:

And it looks very promising for Rose to open the season where the Bulls expected him to be, at point guard leading a dynamic attack.

“I don’t want to say,” Rose said with a smile about the opener against Cleveland Tuesday. “I don’t want to jinx myself, but it’s improving every day. It looks like it’s a go for me.”
Beep, beep; get ready for the road runners.

“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.”

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No. 3: Barnes calls out media ‘half truth’Matt Barnes is one of the NBA’s reigning bad boys, in a league in which villains and heels are hard to find compared to 20 or 30 years ago. His dust-up with New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher out in Los Angeles – the result of Barnes’ angry reaction when Fisher visited socially Barnes’ estranged wife – generated unsavory headlines. And Barnes didn’t mince words this week when he talked with our own Shaun Powell about his departure from the L.A. Clippers, among other things. But Barnes had a right to take umbrage with a Web site, Complex.com, that spun his quotes second-hand and then spit them out in a headline more spiteful and controversial than what the veteran NBA forward actually said. So Barnes cut out the media middle men and made his case, in all its raw emotion, directly through Instagram:

matt_barnes9 I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when my interviews or events in my life are taken & twisted up to make me look like an [expletive]!

So this recent article about me “hating Doc Rivers” is no different… I did say “Doc & I never saw eye to eye”,which was the truth & I also said “he couldn’t wait to get me outta there” which was the truth.. But I also said theres “No Hard Feelings” this is a BUSINESS & Doc did wat he felt was necessary to better his team! Not one time did I say “I hate Doc or the Clippers organization”..It’s actually the opposite!! I have nothing but gratitude & appreciation for the franchise that I had a “small part” in help turning around! I did say “I can’t wait to play the Clippers & Doc Rivers” because I am a competitor & even tho I love my former clip teammates, when that ball goes up Nov 9th for that next 48mins we are enemies!!

It’s just funny how EVERYTHING that comes out about me is half the truth or $h!t none of the truth..! The few people in the media that try & paint this negative picture of me you are doing a good job, “hats off to you” but my friends family & teammates know me & the truth & I guess that’ll have to do! “Just like I drove 95miles from Santa Barbra to LA” lol smh

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No. 4: Holdout over, Thompson happy, healthy, wealthyTristan Thompson isn’t sure how fans around the NBA or even just in Cleveland will respond when they see him for the first time since his contract holdout ended Thursday. But if there are enough bankers, financial planners and professional negotiators in the stands, the Cavaliers’ backup power forward ought to hear plenty of cheering. Thompson and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini gambled and won big, scoring a fully guaranteed, five-year contract worth $82 million, because a) Thompson performed so well in the Cavs’ playoffs crisis, stepping into the void opened by Kevin Love‘s shoulder, and b) the restricted free agent and his reps didn’t blink when the league’s artificial deadline for reaching a new deal passed on Oct. 1. Here is some info from Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com on how Thompson made a three-week holdout work for him:

His patience paid off, and it wasn’t just tested over the summer. It started about a year ago when his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini turned down a four-year, $50 million extension in October of 2014, NEOMG was told. It is believed that the figure Paul would have settled for at the time was north of that $50 million sum.

An extra year of duty in a backup capacity (behind Kevin Love) while averaging the lowest statistics since his rookie year somehow translated to Thompson locking up $32 million more.

Last year the Phoenix Suns gave the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, a four-year $52 million extension to split between the two. Markieff, the better player, collected $32 million. Thompson picked up Markieff’s entire salary in the span of 12 months.

The news of Thompson’s deal prompted Sacramento Kings star DeMarcus Cousins to Tweet out: “How much?”

You think Thompson has any reservations to the sequence of events that led to his massive contract?
“If you asked if I would do it again, I’ll tell you I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Thompson told NEOMG. “Business is business and I believed in my guys Rich and Mark and myself and that’s what I did.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Cleveland coach David Blatt apparently doesn’t doubt for a second that LeBron James will be healthy and available for the team’s season opener Tuesday in Chicago. But James hasn’t practiced for a week since receiving an anti-inflammatory injection in his lower back, his second in 10 months. … Ten weeks after beginning his own fight with cancer, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell has been given a clean bill of health. He talked about that battle with reporters and disclosed that he had spoken with Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, whose own treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma has been more difficult. … NBA commissioner Adam Silver talked after the Board of Governors meetings about the potential, at least, of a peaceful path to the owners’ next labor contract with the players and how shared business concepts might contribute to that. … When Doc Rivers calls Paul Pierce slow, he means it as a compliment. … Miami’s Gerald Green cost himself $25,000 in a matter of seconds with some unwelcome firearm pantomimes. … Meanwhile, Memphis’ Jeff Green committed the faux pas of third-person self-referencing. …

Report: Saunders will not return to Timberwolves this season

Flip Saunders will not return to coach the Timberwolves this season, owner Glen Taylor told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Friday in the latest sad update as Saunders battles cancer.

Saunders, also the president of basketball operations, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June. He has been  hospitalized since early September.

Asked if he expected Saunders to return, Taylor paused, then said: “Not this year. I just think his illness, I mean, it’s serious. At this point, if he came back I still think he’d have a hard time to recover all his energy and all that because he has been in the hospital for a long time.”

From Zgoda:

Doctors treating Saunders called his disease treatable and curable when the Wolves announced his diagnosis in mid-August. At the time, the team said Saunders intended to continue working while he received chemotherapy treatments, which he had completed by the time he was hospitalized in September.

Taylor called the developments “an unbelievable situation we hadn’t anticipated going into this season” and said he talked with the team’s players about Saunders’ condition and his influence on all of them as coach, chief basketball decision-maker and franchise part-owner during a team dinner at Taylor’s Mankato home earlier this month.

“I don’t care how old you get or how experienced you get, these friendships that are in your lives are so important,” said Taylor, who has employed Saunders two different times and known him since shortly after he bought the team in 1994. “They do affect your heart and your mind on a daily basis.”

Taylor said he and Saunders had talked enough throughout the summer that there has been a “blueprint” to follow that includes such things as buying out young forward Anthony Bennett’s contract before training camp began.

The Timberwolves had previously named Sam Mitchell the interim coach and expanded the duties of general manager Milt Newton in an attempt to fill the void in Saunders’ absence.

One Team, One Stat: No D in Minny


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA.com’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 Minnesota Timberwolves, who earned the No. 1 pick by playing the league’s worst defense.

The stat

20151013_min_opp_efg

The context

20151013_min_basicsShooting is the most important part of a good offense, and defending shots is the most important part of a good defense. The Wolves were the worst team at defending shots since the 3-point line was moved back (after three seasons at a uniform 22 feet) in 1997.

The Wolves’ defense ranked in the top 10 in opponent turnover rate and opponent free throw rate. But their success in those areas was trumped by how bad they were at keeping their opponents from missing shots…

… inside and on the perimeter. The Wolves ranked last in field goal percentage defense at the basket and 28th in 3-point defense.

To make things worse, Minnesota ranked last in defensive rebounding percentage. So when their opponents did miss shots, they allowed too many second chances.

Injuries, in particular to Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, were a factor. The Wolves allowed just 100.7 points per 100 possessions in 382 minutes with Rubio and Pekovic on the floor together. Kevin Garnett might have made an impact on defense when he was acquired in February, but played just five games after that.

This year’s Wolves are going to be fun to watch. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are special talents who are just just 19 and 20 years old, respectively. Both could be great defenders some day, too.

But the Wolves are probably going to struggle defensively again this season. In fact, through three preseason games, Wolves opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 57.9 percent.

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

Report: Cancer battle ongoing for Timberwolves’ Saunders


The announcement by Golden State that Warriors coach Steve Kerr is taking a leave of absence to recover from back surgery brought the number of NBA head coaches dealing with health issues this preseason to two. The other, of course, is Minnesota’s Flip Saunders, who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma and will not be actively involved with the Timberwolves for at least the first half of the 2015-16 season.

Saunders’ dual role as president/head coach is being handled on an interim basis by GM Milt Newton and assistant coach Sam Mitchell. The organization is giving Saunders and his family as much time and privacy as they need while fighting his illness. Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune did provide an update Thursday during a live chat on the newspaper’s website:

There’s no question things have changed dramatically since the team announced his diagnosis in August, back when it quoted his doctors saying the cancer was very treatable and curable. Since then there have been changes to the way his body handled the chemotherapy (and maybe how much cancer they’ve found) that have made it life threatening. Everyone involved has gone radio silent because of the family’s request for privacy and federal patient-privacy laws, etc., but between the complete silence, the lack of people visiting as far as I can tell apart from his immediate family and very inner circle while he remains hospitalized here in Minneapolis and the things I’m hearing second-hand, well, none of it is good. I’ll just say this, and this is just my own opinion, if he pulls through this: I doubt very much he’s back this year, it’s probably unlikely he coaches again just because of the stress inherent doing both those jobs and I think there’s a pretty good chance he doesn’t return full time to either job. As far as the franchise goes, that will put them in a holding pattern for some time. I can’t see Glen Taylor allowing Milt Newton and Sam to make a major decision until they know more about Flip’s future and Glen decides who will run his team for the long term. I wouldn’t assume it’ll be Milt and Sam going forward, that’s just for the short term until things become clearer.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 29


VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready to get back to work | Kobe has more questions than answers | Hawks back to chasing the process | Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low

No. 1: Warriors ready to get back to work Last season, in Steve Kerr‘s first year as a head coach, the Golden State Warriors struck gold, winning the franchise’s first NBA championship in four decades, thanks largely to the play of NBA MVP Stephen Curry. After winning the NBA Finals, the Warriors clearly enjoyed the offseason, as members of the team popped up all over the media landscape, often with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow. But as our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, at media day yesterday the Warriors reconvened in the Bay Area ready to get back to work defending their chip

Day 1 of the new season as defending champion and reigning MVP, and Curry already has a challenge: Show he got enough down in the alleged offseason to be ready to again drive the Warriors into June.

Teammate Andrew Bogut, noting the Golden State whirlwind since beating the Cavaliers in the Finals, said, “It feels like the championship parade was last Tuesday.” And he played for Australia in a tournament to qualify for the Olympics but mostly got to recharge. Imagine how fast the summer streaked by for Curry. He played in a POTUS foursome — Curry shot a 76 — had another daughter, hit China, the Philippines and Japan to promote Under Armour, and chatted with Jimmy Fallon in L.A. and Jimmy Kimmel in New York. And there were more talk shows, more appearances to help open the practice facility at Davidson, his alma mater, more other long days.

“All that stuff is fun, but at the end of the day I’m still the same person, still do the same stuff in my spare time that keeps me grounded, keeps me normal,” Curry said Monday as the Warriors officially reconvened for media day in advance of opening camp Tuesday at their practice facility. “Me and my family had an opportunity to get away and spend time with ourselves and just try to be as normal as possible. It’s obviously been different, especially here in the Bay Area. Going out and doing things, you get recognized a lot more. The world’s kind of gotten smaller. But for the most part, the way that we kind of live and do our daily routine, we find time to get away from the game and the noise. That’s helpful to handle all the good that’s gone on on the court and everything we’ve been able to accomplish.”

This now becomes about all the Warriors figuring out how to handle the champion’s spotlight, but no one more than Curry and his new status of superstar-in-demand. There are the many reasons to feel good around Warriors Ground. He is a tireless worker who puts a priority on being ready to play. He is 27, young enough to have the recovery powers that will eventually elude him. He has a coach, Steve Kerr, with a firm understanding of finding opportunities to cut back on players’ minutes. And Curry is mature enough — thanks in part to a father who lasted 16 NBA seasons — to understand the importance of rest.

Except that it doesn’t matter how Curry felt Monday. April matters, and there is no way to predict how his summer in a shrinking world will hit him when the next playoffs begin. (A lot will depend on the other Warriors. They recorded so many blowouts last season, becoming just the eighth team in league history to outscore the opposition by an average of double digits, that Curry was able to rest a lot of fourth quarters. That undoubtedly made a difference in the 2015 postseason.)

***

No. 2: Kobe has more questions than answers Kobe Bryant is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, but as he prepares for his 20th NBA season, there seem to be more questions than answers. For many months now, it has been assumed that this will be Kobe’s final season in the NBA. But now, on the even of training camp, as our own Shaun Powell writes, despite reports that Kobe plans to finish his career as a Laker, Kobe is either playing coy, or perhaps he honestly doesn’t know what the future holds

Here’s what we can surmise about Kobe at this very moment: His bread and butter move isn’t a step-back jumper or a floater in the lane or a 25-footer with a hand in his grill. His signature move is a shrug.

“Not sure,” he said. “Big question mark.”

That’s his stock answer right now to the most pressing training camp questions involving him and, to a lesser extent, the short-range view of the Lakers, who did not and could not surround him with enough championship-level talent here in what could be his walk-away season. Once again, then, Kobe is one of the league’s most fascinating players even if he isn’t the best or among the best anymore.

Maybe it’s just Kobe being coy, or maybe, as he insisted, he’s as stumped as ever.

“I’m as excited for this season as I’ve been any season,” he said, before adding that it’s also the most unsure he’s ever felt in an NBA uniform. He has played only 41 games the last two seasons mainly due to a repaired Achilles and suddenly, the most durable of stars appears vulnerable. He’s also on the final year of his contract which, of course, invites heavy speculation about retirement next spring.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” he said.

Or maybe you can go another route, as his former coach Phil Jackson did when he volunteered to throw a log on the fire by suggesting Kobe could play in another uniform next season.

“Everybody’s going to have an opinion,” Kobe said. “That’s his opinion.”

And Kobe’s opinion?

“Hell if I know.”

***

No. 3: Hawks back to chasing the process Last season the Atlanta Hawks caught the NBA by surprise, reeling off 60 wins and taking the regular season Eastern Conference crown. This season they return with not only the element of surprise removed from their arsenal, but with their style of pace and space basketball exposed for the rest of the NBA to scheme against. As our own Sekou Smith writes, the Hawks understand last season was only a step in the pursuit of a larger goal

A historical season, for the franchise and the city of Atlanta, is just history now. There will be no chasing the ghosts of the recent past and no measuring this season by the last, at least not around here, where the Hawks are as married to the process of the present as any team in the NBA.

“Last season was just a step,” All-Star shooting guard Kyle Korver said Monday during the Hawks’ Media Day session at Philips Arena. “It was a giant step, a huge step and great for this franchise and the city, but just a step. We didn’t win a championship, so it’s not like we accomplished our ultimate goal.”

Winning it all would have been considered crazy talk around here before last season. Yes, the Hawks have been an Eastern Conference playoff staple for years but never a serious contender.

But one season, one colossal season where seemingly everything fits into place, can change wild expectations into a reality at the tip of your fingers.
“We don’t have any doubts about who and what we are,” All-Star point guard Jeff Teague said. “We’ve worked hard as a group the past few years and this is the result of that hard work. We know who we are and what we’re capable of. We’ve shown what we can do. And now it’s about consistency.”

The Hawks return four All-Stars — Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Teague — and other members of their core group that are entering their third training camp under Mike Budenholzer, who added the permanent title of President of Basketball Operations to his official title during offseason that saw the Hawks get a new ownership group.

The departure of defensive ace and emotional leader DeMarre Carroll (Toronto via free agency) is the only significant departure the Hawks will have to deal with heading into the start of training camp Tuesday at the University of Georgia. And even that comes with the added boost of producing some competitive fire from the players vying to replace him, a group that includes Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr.

It’s just the sort of training camp wrinkle Budenholzer is looking for to shake things up for a group that is confident in the body of work produced in his first two seasons, but still hungry for bigger and better things going forward.

“I think there is going to be a team effort to bring the energy and the competitiveness and the edge that a guy like DeMarre Carroll brings,” Budenholzer said of replacing Carroll. “So I don’t know that there is going to be any one individual who does that. But I think there are guys on our team, the core group that’s been here, they are probably going to raise their level of energy and intensity. But when you have Thabo and Kent who have both been here and I think are both elite wing defenders and have have proven that in the NBA, it may look and feel a little bit different, but I think their ability to have a similar impact is something that gives us a lot of confidence.”

***

No. 4: Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low Carmelo Anthony missed more than half of last season after knee surgery, which was a major reason the Knicks finished with a franchise-low 17 wins. Now Anthony is healthy, and Knicks team president Phil Jackson has made several moves to fortify the roster, as the Knicks’ rebuilding project begins the task of actually getting off the ground. How long will it take Anthony and rookie Kristaps Porzingis to help mold the Knicks into a team with more wins than losses? As our own Lang Whitaker writes, at media day yesterday Anthony was quick to point out that it’s too early to have expectations at this point

“It’s going to take some time to kind of figure out what our expectations are,” says Anthony. “It’s good not to have any expectations at this time. It gives us a chance to kind of have a fresh start, and get our identity and where we want to end up. It starts tomorrow. I don’t think you’ll be hearing about expectations from any of the guys right now. It’s too early at this point.”

This isn’t to say Anthony thinks the Knicks shouldn’t have any aspirations whatsoever. As he enters his 13th season, the 31-year-old Anthony has been to the Conference Finals just once (in 2009 with the Nuggets), and still hopes to change the narrative advanced by some that while he’s clearly a gifted scorer — averaging 25.2 points over his career — he’s not much more than just a bucket collector. With Anthony under contract with the Knicks for at least three more seasons, the clock is ticking louder and louder on the prime of his career.

“My window is open,” he says. “I don’t think it’s closing. For the most part, coming into this year, I think we get a chance to write our own destiny right now. That’s a good thing — we can start off fresh, start off with a clean slate. We can write whatever story we want to write, whether good or bad. I think guys are excited about that, to have a chance to start off fresh, to put the past behind us and move forward.”

A large part of New York’s future looks to rest in the hands of first round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis, the 19-year-old seven-footer from Latvia that the Knicks drafted fourth overall. Porzingis has clearly learned how to appeal to area fans, with several vague but laudatory maxims down cold: “Best city in the world,” Porzingis notes. “No better place to win.”

According to Porzingis, he and Anthony played one-on-one, “for like a week straight, every day. As I played against him, he was showing me all his moves, and I was just trying to learn from him, asking him how he did this, how he did that, how he moves his feet, all that kind of stuff.”

(By the way, rookie, who won the bulk of these games? “Melo is Melo. He beat me more than I beat him.”)

After being selected 4th overall by the Knicks in the 2015 Draft, Kristaps Porzingis got off to a solid start in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Anthony said he hopes to be a “big brother” to Porzingis, and he clearly sees some similarities in his own journey to the NBA: Anthony entered the league as a 19-year-old in 2003 after being the third overall pick.

“I’ve showed everybody I support Porzingis,” Anthony says. “As long as me and KP know our relationship, that’s all that really matters, and it doesn’t matter what somebody might speculate out there. As far as him coming into this season, I kind of feel bad for him, because there’s so much pressure on him at this point, and this guy hasn’t played not even one minute in the NBA… I don’t think he knows what he’s about to get himself into. So I’ve got to kind of be that wall for him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: When LeBron James and his Cavs teammates met up in Miami this summer, they used the informal workout as a motivating sessionKevin Garnett still hates playing centerJimmy Butler says the Bulls belong to everyone … How the Clippers ended up signing Josh Smith … The Orlando Magic and Evan Fournier have reportedly had initial discussions about a contract extension … The Lakers have hired James Worthy to help coach their big menSteven Adams can’t wear a headband


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