Posts Tagged ‘Paul Millsap’

New Age: Dirk, D-Wade Now Old Guard

Dirk Nowitzki (left) and Dwyane Wade  (the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

Dirk and Dwyane Wade (12 and 10 All-Star appearances, respectively) are the elder statesmen in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS – Feeling old? A few All-Stars are.

“I was looking at Dirk and Tony and me and now I’m like one of the older guys,” Clippers All-Star point Chris Paul said. “I was looking at Damian Lillard and wondering what he must be thinking.”

Paul is only 28 and still very much in the prime of his career, but his sort of sudden discovery underscores the tremendous youth movement happening in the NBA. Youthful stars like the 23-year-old Lillard, who has taken Portland and the league by storm in just his second season, seem to be everywhere and making the older guards like Paul, Tony Parker, 31, and others ponder where the time’s gone.

“Who’s the oldest player here?” asked Dwyane Wade, hardly old at 32, but whose troublesome knees have added some years as he makes his 10th appearance in Sunday night’s 63rd All-Star Game.

The oldest would be Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who turned 35 last June. Kobe, who was voted in by the fans as a Western Conference starter, but won’t play because of a knee injury, turned 35 in August.

“We were just talking to [DeMar] DeRozan and Kyrie [Irving] and Paul George,” said Wade, one of only two Eastern Conference All-Stars in their 30s; Joe Johnson is also 32, about six months older than Wade. “When we came in it was Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, these players that we had so much respect for were at the All-Star Game, they were the older guys that had been around for 10 years, and now we are.”

Dirk, Kobe and Parker now have 34 All-Star appearances between them. The West’s starting five — Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin — have a combined 15. None are older than 25. So this could become a very familiar-looking All-Star starting group.

“It’s weird not see all these guys,” said Nowitzki, a 12-time All-Star, who made his debut in the 2002 game. “Tim Duncan, every year I’ve been an All-Star, Tim was here, KG was here, Kobe was here, Shaq was here every year. So I miss these guys a little bit and now I’m the oldest guy here which feels a little weird because in my head I don’t really feel 35, 36. But I’m definitely enjoying these young guys and I’m enjoying these last couple years competing against these young guys, and then I’ll slowly go away.”

The sudden youth can be startling. In the West, six of 12 All-Stars are 25 or younger and that number actually jumped to seven when second-year Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, 20, replaced Kobe. Including Davis, 10 players on the West roster are 28 or younger.

In the East, George, 23, Kyrie IrvingDeMar DeRozan  and John Wall are all 24 or younger. Nine players are 29 or younger with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap all being 29. Bosh turns 30 next month, while Joakim Noah turns 29 on Feb. 25.

“It’s crazy,” Wade said. “It goes so fast and at the same time to still be here is an unbelievable honor. It goes, man, you’ve got to enjoy it along the way. You see the young guys coming up and they are the future of the NBA and one day they’ll be doing the things that we’re doing, looking back like, ‘Man, how fast did it go?'”

Advanced Stats: East All-Stars

NEW ORLEANS – All-Star weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the new version of NBA.com/stats. This season brought SportVU player tracking to the site and just Thursday night, player tracking stats were added on the boxscore level, so you can see how far a player ran or how many of his shots were contested on any given night.

All-Star weekend also means that it’s time to dive in with statistical nuggets for all 25 All-Stars. Here are the 12 guys representing the Eastern Conference…

Kyrie Irving, G, Cleveland

Dwyane Wade, G, Miami

Carmelo Anthony, F, New York

Paul George, F, Indiana

LeBron James, F, Miami

Chris Bosh, F-C, Miami

DeMar DeRozan, G, Toronto

Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana

Joe Johnson, G, Brooklyn

Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta

Joakim Noah, C, Chicago

John Wall, G, Washington

Duncan Out, Newbies In As Reserves

 

Taking a few liberties with the immortal words of the late Pete Seeger, who died this week:

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven
A time to become an All-Star, a time to fade away

When Tim Duncan played in his first NBA All-Star Game back in 1998, John Wall and Damian Lillard were 7 years old.  DeMar DeRozan was eight.  Paul Millsap was 13.

NBA All-Star 2014Now, as the Spurs veteran was left off the All-Star team for only the third time in his career, the quartet of newcomers will be making their All-Star debuts a in New Orleans. If it’s the end of the All-Star line for the 37-year-old Duncan, his 14 appearances will leave him in fifth place behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19), Kobe Bryant (16), Shaquille O’Neal (15) and Kevin Garnett (15).

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew

Chris Bosh once again joined teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the East team, making the defending NBA champion Heat the only team with three players on the All-Star rosters. A poll of the league’s head coaches added seven reserves, announced Thursday night on TNT, to each team.

Roy Hibbert of the league-leading Pacers joined teammate Paul George.  DeRozan, Millsap and Wall were added along with Joe Johnson of the Nets and Joakim Noah of the Bulls.

In the Western Conference, the Clippers, Trail Blazers and Rockets had multiple All-Stars selected.  With Blake Griffin voted in as a starter by the fans, the coaches added the Clippers’ Chris Paul for one tandem. Lillard joins Portland teammate LaMarcus Aldridge to make another. And Houston’s one-two punch of Dwight Howard and James Harden made it as reserves.  Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks and Tony Parker of the Spurs complete the West roster.

The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be televised on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The All-Star Game, also broadcast live on ESPN Radio, will reach fans in 215 countries and territories in more than 40 languages.

Eastern Conference

DeMar DeRozan (Ron Turenne/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan (Ron Turenne/NBAE)

Chris Bosh, Heat — As the condition of Wade’s knees makes the “three-peat” chances seem wobbly, the unheralded and under-appreciated Bosh is recognized by the coaches for sacrificing individual glory for wins. | Highlights

DeMar DeRozan, Raptors — The 24-year-old has made steady progress over five pro seasons to transform himself from flamboyant dunker to all-around player and a real team leader as the Raptors become a legitimate playoff contender in the East. | Highlights

Roy Hibbert, Pacers — In a gimmick-less world without the plain silly frontcourt-backcourt voting, there’d be a place for a traditional low-post center in the starting lineup. Hibbert, the beast of the East and Pacers’ anchor, would be it. | Highlights

Joe Johnson, Nets — As teammate Kevin Garnett says, “Joe Jesus” might not be there when you call on him, but he’s there when you need him.  The seven-time All-Star has hit big, big shots as part of the Nets’ turnaround since New Year’s Day. | Highlights

Paul Millsap, Hawks — After all those years toiling in the obscurity of Utah, Millsap has proven to be the best free-agent purchase of the summer of 2013 and has kept the surprising Hawks in the thick of the playoff race after the loss of Al Horford. | Highlights

Joakim Noah, Bulls — His relentless, frantic, never-quit-on-a-loose-ball attitude and effect on his Bulls’ teammates can hardly be defined by numbers.  But they’re not shabby either — 11.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 blocks per game. | Highlights

John Wall, Wizards — His team is up and down, in and out, always seems ready to disappoint. But he’s been the best point guard in the Eastern Conference this season and the best reason to watch the Wizards play. | Highlights

The lowdown — Based on his play over the last month, it would seem that Kyle Lowry has reason to cry injustice the loudest in an Eastern Conference that has not exactly been a Milky Way of stars.  The guess is the coaches looked at the makeup of the overall roster and decided that it was hard to justify the Raptors getting a second star when the league leading Pacers could manage only two themselves. Which brings up another snub — Lance Stephenson.  The former hot-and-cold wing man has done a great deal to make himself a more consistent player on a nightly basis. It’s quite possible that in late May or early June his omission could look extra foolish if he makes the difference in taking down the Heat. You have to figure that a simple look at the standings, where the Pistons are playing just .400 ball, worked against Andre Drummond.  And no, Anderson Varejao and Luol Deng of the hapless Cavs, once the fans voted Kyrie Irving in as a starter, you didn’t stand a chance, either.

Western Conference

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Making a third straight All-Star team wasn’t enough.  Now Aldridge has pushed himself into the MVP conversation with an even higher level of play and lifted the Blazers into contention for No. 1 seed in the West. | Highlights

James Harden, Rockets — His numbers are slightly down with the addition of Howard into the mix, but The Beard is still virtually unstoppable going to the basket and as good a late-game closer as there is in the game. | Highlights

Dwight Howard, Rockets — Another victim of the “no center” designation, he’s healthy, happy and oh-so-glad he’s no longer in L.A.  Despite critiques by Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, Howard is the NBA’s top big man. | Highlights

Dik Nowitzki (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Dik Nowitzki (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers — How do you pack talent and confidence — cockiness? — so big into such a little package?  The 2013 Rookie of the Year will play in his first All-Star Game. Don’t think for a moment he’ll be shy. | Highlights

Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks — After knee problems last season ended his 11-year run, the 35-year-old has returned to his old form and to make it an even dozen All-Star appearances. He looks like he could motor on like a vintage Mercedes forever. | Highlights

Tony Parker, Spurs — Teammates around him keep dropping like flies — Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili — and the league’s most under-appreciated point guard shoulders the burden and keeps pushing the Spurs forward. | Highlights

Chris Paul, Clippers — CP3 says he might be recovered from a separated shoulder in time to play in the All-Star Game and defend his MVP award from last year in Houston, then give his Clippers momentum down the stretch into the playoffs. | Highlights

The lowdown: The last time the All-Star Game was played in New Orleans in 2008, the Hornets had a pair of players in the West lineup with Paul and David West.  Of course, that team was on its way to 56 wins and the No. 2 seed.  Six years later, New Orleans’ Pelicans are struggling. That’s likely the main reason that hometown star Anthony Davis wasn’t rewarded by the coaches.  In an era when centers don’t get much respect, that probably cost DeMarcus Cousins a spot, too.  You could also make a good case for Warriors forward David Lee and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan. However, it says here that the biggest snub went to Goran Dragic, who has been the leader of the offense and the steadying force for the Suns, who are nothing less than the surprise of the league.  But it’s tough to be a guard in the West.  Just ask Mike Conley and Monta Ellis.  And just think of how much tougher the backcourt competition would have been if Russell Westbrook were healthy.

All-Star Reserves Named Tonight On TNT


VIDEO: The Beat crew picks the East and West reserves

We all know that coaches are never swayed by sentimentality. What they do, by its very nature, is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of business.

NBA All-Star 2014Good thing, then, that a couple of golden oldies named Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are still producing like young pups.

The fate of the 37-year-old Duncan and 35-year-old Nowitzki are two of the biggest questions as the reserves for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game are announced tonight (7 ET) on TNT.

The results of the voting by the league’s 30 coaches will be revealed and discussed by Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith on a one-hour NBA Tip-Off special preceding a doubleheader that will have the Cavaliers at New York and the Clippers at Golden State.

Duncan, making a bid for a 15th All-Star Game,  is averaging 14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots in leading the Spurs to the second-best record in the West. Nowitzki had a string of 11 All-Star appearances snapped a year ago due to lingering knee problems, but has the Mavericks back in the playoff hunt by averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

After no centers were voted into the starting lineup of either team by the fan balloting, it is expected that Dwight Howard of the Rockets and Roy Hibbert of the Pacers will be added by the coaches.

In the Eastern Conference, after Hibbert of the Pacers, Chris Bosh of the Heat, Joakim Noah of the Bulls, Paul Millsap of the Hawks and John Wall of the Wizards, the questions swirl around the two wild card slots. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, Arron Afflalo and Joe Johnson are top candidates.

Along with the fates of Duncan and Nowitzki, the Western coaches will pick from a frontcourt group that includes LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, Serge Ibaka and DeMarcus Cousins. Do-it-all small forward Nicolas Batum may be in the discussion, too. The backcourt is even more crowded. Still-injured guard Chris Paul could make it back in time for All-Star. But Kobe Bryant, elected a starter, is expected to miss the game. So coaches (and newly minted commissioner Adam Silver, who will name replacements for starters who can’t play) will pick from among Paul, James HardenDamian Lillard, Tony Parker, Klay Thompson, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic and maybe even Monta Ellis. 

The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. The All-Star Game, also aired live on ESPN Radio, will reach fans in 215 countries and territories and be broadcast in more than 40 languages.

East Reserves: Hard To Spread Around

VIDEO: Debating the East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans have been named. In the Eastern Conference, you voted in Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Nice work, though there are probably a couple of guards more deserving than Irving.

Over the next few days, East coaches will vote for the reserves, which will be announced next Thursday on TNT. Given the relative futility of most teams outside of Indiana and Miami, it’s difficult to name anybody that’s obviously an All-Star.

Really, if we were putting together a team of 12 guys to represent the strength of the East this season, we’d have six Pacers, five Heat, and an empty roster spot to represent the Raptors’ improvement after trading Rudy Gay.

The conference’s coaches will probably let some other guys in, though. They’re asked to vote for two backcourt players, three frontcourt players, and two wildcards. They can’t vote for their own guys.

For Jeff Caplan‘s look at the Western Conference bench, click here.

Here are my picks in the East …

THE BACKCOURT

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have carried the Toronto offense since the Gay trade. Lance Stephenson is the second-leading scorer and leading assist man for the best team in the league, while John Wall leads the conference in assists per contest. Arron Afflalo has put up strong numbers for a really bad team.

Ultimately, Lowry and Wall have been the two best point guards in the East, and have their teams in the top six in the standings.

My picks: Lowry and Wall.

THE FRONTCOURT

As the anchor of the best defense of the last 37 years, Roy Hibbert is the most obvious reserve pick in the East. Teammate David West, as another key cog for the league’s best team who ranks ninth (among players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes) in the East in PIE, also has a case.

Paul Millsap has been a beast for the team that currently ranks third in the conference, while Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao all deserve consideration for their two-way contributions. Al Jefferson has carried the Charlotte offense and, oh yeah, there’s the Heat’s second most important player, Chris Bosh.

My picks: Bosh, Hibbert and Millsap.

THE WILD CARDS

In addition to the names listed above, Andre Drummond, Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young all belong in the conversation, though if any of them were in the Western Conference, they could have booked their Feb. 14 trip to the Bahamas long ago.

Though it may compromise the aesthetics of the game, the best choices are the role-playing bigs. Noah is the best player on the fifth-best team in the conference and the Cavs have been much better with Varejao on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench.

My picks: Noah and Varejao

Free-Agent Barometer: Boom or Bust

Back in the hot fun of summertime, when there seem to be more dollars available than grains of sand, every free-agent signing is made to feel like a day at the beach.

Now, as we approach halfway mark of the season, it’s time to take the temperature:

GLOWING


VIDEO: Relive Dwight Howard’s signing with the Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard, Rockets — There are times when he is too passive and does not demand the ball enough from all of the inexperienced hands in the Houston lineup. But a healthy, happy Howard has been everything the Rockets hoped for when they forked over $88.5 million to lure him away from the Lakers. There is a bounce to his step and joy to his game that had been missing since the 2008-09 season in Orlando. With him in the middle and playing off James Harden, the Rockets are on track to eventually becoming a championship contender.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — Don’t try to pigeonhole him or stick on a label as an elite defender or a greyhound that thrives in the transition game. He is simply a wonderful all around player that can do whatever is necessary in any situation. He was the spark that lifted the Nuggets a year ago to a franchise-best 57 wins and he’s moved to Golden State to become a difference-maker for the Warriors. For all of the (deserving) All-Star accolades to Stephen Curry and attention paid to Klay Thompson, Iguodala is the one that makes this fun and entertaining team truly dangerous.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — When it finally came time for the Hawks to cut the cord with Josh Smith, they went for his polar opposite. Not at all flamboyant, never trying to things outside his job description, Millsap comes to work every night and never leaves his team feeling shortchanged. His two-year, $19 million contract might have been the best free-agent bargain of the summer and he’s fit right in perfectly on the frontline in Atlanta. He’s blue-collar ways in the low post and on the boards has been needed even more since Atlanta lost Al Horford for the season.

Al Jefferson, Bobcats — One thing rookie coach Steve Clifford knew was that for the Bobcats to pick themselves up from their semi-permanent residence on the Eastern Conference floor, they needed a low-post presence to get some hard-fought points in the paint. He suffered an ankle injury in training camp and started slow, but once Jefferson got his legs under him, he’s averaged 16.8 points and 10 rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Charlotte (16 wins) is a sure bet to surpass last season’s 21-win campaign.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavericks guard Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis, Mavericks — We won’t go as far as Dallas owner Mark Cuban to say that the jury is still out on whether Ellis or Howard is the free-agent catch of the season. After all, we’re pretty sure Cuban would make a 1-for-1 swap right now. As coach of the Warriors years ago, ex-Mavs coach Don Nelson called Ellis selfish. But the once shot-happy Ellis has reined some of his tendencies and found a comfortable home in Dallas. He’s averaging 5.8 apg and his upbeat production is keeping the Mavs alive in the West playoff race.

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves — Every team he’s played on throughout a 10-year NBA career has gotten efficiency and production. He’s one of those players who can give you 20 points a game on a minimum number of shots due to a knack for drawing free throws. There have been many things lacking for Minnesota during another underachieving run, but Martin has come through with the kind of numbers — 19.3 points per game — that were expected.

SUNBURNED


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses where Andrew Bynum may end up next

Andrew Bynum, CavaliersSigning him to a two-year, $24 million contract (that was only half-guaranteed in Season 1) was supposed to make it a no-brainer for the Cavs. Of course, the no brain place continues to be between Bynum’s ears as he quickly alienated teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization. He had a pair of 20-point games with 13 and 10 rebounds. But his biggest positive effect was as a payroll-slashing trade chip that eventually brought in Luol Deng.

Josh Smith, Pistons — Don’t let Joe Dumars near your piggy bank. Four years ago, the general manager wasted a Brinks truck full of money to bring in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and put the Pistons into a deep hole. This time Dumars dug deeper with his idea that he could give $54 million for four years to Smith and put him into a super-sized front line with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith has clashed with coach Maurice Cheeks, found himself sitting on the bench at the end of games and still takes bad shots at a high rate. Is anybody surprised?

Chris Kaman, Lakers — The money spent by the Lakers — $3.2 million, one year — could probably have been scraped up out of the sofa cushions in the luxury suites at Staples Center. But no matter how you slice it, the thought that Kaman was going to return to L.A. and help the Lakers in their most trying season was laughable in hindsight. Kaman has never found a way into the rotation, has frequently expressed his displeasure with coach Mike D’Antoni and now spends more time lobbing verbal bombs in frustration than tracking down rebounds or shooting.

IN THE SHADE

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — With Jrue Holiday out of the lineup indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg and the team still reportedly trying to trade Eric Gordon, this would be the time when Evans can step up and really shine. He’s been far from a bust and doggedly fought to keep himself in the Pelicans’ lineup despite the fact that he keeps reinsuring a sprained left ankle. But that $44 million, four-year contract raises expectations for more than 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. At this point, the jury is still out.

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Hawks’ Teague Ready For (All-)Star Turn?




VIDEO: Jeff Teague does it all for the Hawks in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

ATLANTA — It’s a good thing Jeff Teague doesn’t have to rely on … uh, Jeff Teague to crank up the hype machine on his All-Star campaign. Because the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard would rather discuss anything but his obvious candidacy for one of those coveted spots on the Eastern Conference reserves list.

Make no mistake, Teague wants on that prestigious list. He makes that clear night after night during his fifth and finest season in the league. He’s just not willing or able to commit himself to the sideshow that is lobbying on his own behalf, which is actually pretty refreshing.

In an era when some players are busier on Twitter and other social media sites than they are on the court on a given night, Teague is decidedly frills-free in his approach to the game and everything else that comes with along with his status as the healthy face of the Hawks. Al Hoford, who was headed for his third All-Star nod before suffering a season-ending right pectoral muscle tear on Dec. 26, is physically unable to perform that duty now. That leaves the work to a committee headed by Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver.

“I honestly don’t worry about that stuff,” Teague said before leading the Hawks past the Indiana Pacers to snap a three-game losing streak Wednesday night at Philips Arena. “I just play, do my job and let everything else take care of itself.”

That shouldn’t be hard in an Eastern Conference All-Star landscape where Teague is the head of the snake of one of just three teams with a winning record (the Pacers and Miami Heat are the others). And with the likes of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams either injured or suffering through injury-plagued seasons, there is an opening for some fresh blood in the All-Star point-guard mix.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel praised Teague’s work this season and said he’s absolutely on the short list of players that Eastern Conference coaches need to consider when filling out their All-Star reserves ballots.

“The history of the league has rewarded winning teams,” Vogel said. “He’s certainly and All-Star level, an All-Star caliber player. He’s having a terrific season and carrying the load now even more that Horford is out. And I know he is the focal point of our game plan every time we play these guys. They are spread out more and they have 3-point shooting bigs, and I think that just opens up the court for him to go to work and makes it more difficult to help. And he’s just growing, he’s developing and each year he’s gotten better. Like I said, he’s a terrific young guard.”

Seven months ago the restricted free agent wasn’t even sure he’d be wearing a Hawks uniform. Teague signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks, where his former coach Larry Drew landed, and was prepared to start over in the Central Division. After spending his first four seasons here in Atlanta, with the team that drafted him with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Teague was mentally prepared to start over if the Hawks didn’t match the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer.

Once the Hawks made it clear that they planned to rebuild with Teague at the controls, he was able to make peace with his situation and dive into the point-guard friendly system of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Atlanta’s new boss learned a thing or two about tutoring young point guards after helping mold San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tony Parker‘s game over the years.

“I’m happy to be here, I love Atlanta, the city … it’s perfect for me,” Teague said. “I’ve been here my whole career, so I was glad to be back. We’ve got all good guys, nobody looking for extra. Just all good guys working hard and trying to get better and trying to win. So at the end of the day, it’s a perfect environment for me.”

A perfect environment with the perfect coach. Budenholzer’s meticulous approach intrigued Teague. His collaborative approach also struck a chord with the extremely laid back Teague, whose easygoing nature should not be confused for any lack of desire or effort to try to dominate the opposition on a nightly basis.

“He pulls me aside all the time just to talk basketball,” Teague said. “I’ve never had that happen before. It’s just the perfect system for me, the perfect blend. And we’re all still trying to figure it out. As the year goes on I think we’ll get better and better at doing what we do.”

They’ll have to do it without the security blanket that Horford provided. Horford’s steady face-up game allowed the Hawks to lean on their “system” in the fourth quarter of games, to let Teague and Horford’s chemistry to shine through.

“We’re running the same stuff but it’s definitely different without Al,” Teague said. “In the fourth quarter we usually go the high pick and roll with me and Al. And that was real effective for us. I honestly didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot with Pero (Antic) and Elton (Brand), so we’re all still getting adjusted, I’m still getting comfortable with those guys and learning where they want to be and where they like to get the ball in those situations. We’re still learning each other and still learning on the fly right now.”

Teague has already put in the necessary work to garner favorable All-Star consideration. He’s averaging career highs across the board, in points (16.9), assists (8.0), rebounds (2.8) and minutes (33.5).There is still plenty of work to be done, something Teague is the first to admit. His 3-point shooting remains streaky as ever, he made just 3-for-17 from deep in the five games prior to Wednesday night’s game.

Still, the overall strides made in his game from last season to this one are glaring and should not be overlooked when All-Star bids are discussed.

“I just know how valuable he’s been to us,” Budenholzer said. “He’s kind of that engine that gets us going. And any success we’ve had this year, he’s been a huge part of that, taking on the responsibility with the ball in his hands a lot and generating shots for others and for himself. I know there are a lot of good point guards, and I’m a little bit biased, but I think he deserves to be [on that list].”

At least someone is willing to lobby for Teague, even if he won’t.

Hang Time One-On-One … With Al Horford

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Al Horford‘s season came to an abrupt end on Dec. 26 when he reached for the ball and tore his right pectoral muscle, the second such injury in three seasons for the Atlanta Hawks’ two-time All-Star center.

Horford tore his left pectoral muscle in 2012 and missed four months recovering from that injury, coming back in the playoffs that season but missing all but 11 regular season games during the 2011-12 season. But the heat and soul of the Hawks’ franchise will not let this latest injury setback deter him. He’s vowed to return better than ever while continuing to serve as an influential voice and presence for his team during his recovery.

Just so we’re clear on the impact Horford had on the Hawks this season, his first playing alongside someone other than Josh Smith (now in Detroit) in the frontcourt, you need to consider what sort of company he was in as the Hawks’ leading scorer and rebounder.

At the time of his injury Horford was one of just six players — LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings were the others — leading his team in points and rebounds.

Now Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and guys like Elton Brand and Pero Antic are left to help fill the massive void left by Horford’s absence for a Hawks team that has overachieved this season.

Interestingly enough, those are the same guys Horford expressed extreme confidence in when I sat down with him before his injury for the latest installment of our Hang Time One-On-One series …



VIDEO: Al Horford opens up about his Hawks, his city, his journey and much more in this HT One-On-One

With Horford, Hawks Were Most Improved This Month


VIDEO: NBA Action: One-on-One with Al Horford

The List

Most improved teams, NetRtg, Oct-November to December

Team Oct.-Nov. Rank December Rank Diff.
Atlanta -1.1 16 +8.1 2 9.2
Brooklyn -6.9 27 +0.7 11 7.7
Cleveland -8.8 28 -2.5 21 6.4
Milwaukee -11.1 29 -5.7 26 5.3
Oklahoma City +6.0 5 +11.3 1 5.3

NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Context

This would be an encouraging stat for three of the five teams on the list had they not lost All-Stars to serious injuries during the course of the month. Brooklyn lost Brook Lopez for the season as it was playing its best offense of the season, Atlanta lost Al Horford indefinitely as it was beginning to pick up some steam, and Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook until after the All-Star break as it was establishing itself as the best team in the league.

The Hawks are just 7-4 in December, but have the league’s second-best point differential in the month, mostly because they beat the the Cavs, Lakers, Kings and Jazz by an average of 20.8 points. But they do have a win over the Clippers and had a huge offensive game in Miami.

Atlanta’s improvement has been all about the offense. They’ve scored 9.6 more points per 100 possessions in December (110.6) than they did in October and November (101.0). They’ve played some bad defensive teams this month, but they’ve scored more points per 100 possessions than their opponent’s season average in eight of their 11 games.

The biggest difference in the Hawks’ offense has been 3-point shooting. Not only have they been shooting 3s better, but they’ve been shooting them more often.

Hawks 3-point shooting

Month 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank
Oct-November 138 390 35.4% 16 27.0% 11
December 126 302 41.7% 1 31.3% 2

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

A healthy Lou Williams has given Atlanta an additional threat from long range, but Paul Millsap has also been a big part of the improvement. Millsap shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range in that overtime loss to the Heat, and 27 percent of his shots in December have been 3s , up from 13 percent in October and November.

Millsap is shooting 46 percent from downtown, so he should keep launching them if he can. Horford’s absence will put more of the defensive focus on Millsap, but thus far, Millsap has actually taken a greater percentage of his shots from 3-point range with Horford off the floor (33/116) than he has with Horford on the floor (37/252).

Overall, the Hawks have actually been a slightly better offensive team (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions vs. 104.4) with Horford off the floor, but they’ve been much worse defensively (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.7). Basically, they’re a top-10 defensive team with Horford and a bottom-five defensive team without him.

While their offense has been the reason for their improvement, they wouldn’t have the third best record in the East without a solid defense. And now, they will likely struggle to get stops consistently.

Brooklyn is in a similar situation. Their improvement is mostly about their offense, which received a huge boost when Deron Williams returned from his ankle injury and has scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions in the nine games he’s played in December. But they’ve been much better defensively with Lopez on the floor and aren’t likely to climb out the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency without him.

The Video

Here are Millsap’s 10 3-point attempts against the Heat on Dec. 23, here are Jeff Teague‘s 15 assists against the Kings on Dec. 18, and here’s Teague’s game-winner in Cleveland on Thursday.

The bottom of the list

The Spurs have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse in December than they were in October and November. The drop-off has come on defense, where they rank 17th this month after ranking second through Nov. 30.

The Pacers still rank No. 1 defensively, but have fallen off quite a bit on that end as well. Maybe they just set too high a standard in the first month, because they’ve allowed 11.1 more points per 100 possessions in December. They’ve improved offensively (+4.0), but their NetRtg difference of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions has them 29th on the list.

Above the Pacers are the Sixers (minus-7.0), the Rockets (minus-6.8) and Lakers (minus-4.9).