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Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia 76ers’

Analytics Art: LaVine, Turner, Noel among best shooters of week


VIDEO: Zach LaVine finishes with authority vs. the Cavs

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

The announcement of 2016 NBA All-Star reserves stole most headlines Thursday, but participants for this year’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge were named a day before that. Two players in particular showcased their offensive skill in the week leading up to the release of those rosters.

Interactive data visualization site PointAfter will help illustrate the most efficient shooting performances of the last seven days from each position group (guard, wing, forward/center), which have a youthful flavor to them this week.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 22-28.

Best Guard: Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves

LaVine’s shooting stroke was icier than Winter Storm Jonas for most of January, as he reached double-digit scoring in just three of his first 12 games. After setting a Timberwolves record with 35 bench points on 14-of-17 shooting against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, it’s fair to assume the cold spell is over.

LaVine made all nine two-point attempts against the Thunder and sunk 5-of-8 shots from 3-point range to keep Minnesota close in an eventual 126-123 defeat. LaVine’s 82 percent shooting that night was the best by a Timberwolf since Kevin Garnett in 2006.

That followed a solid showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, when LaVine scored 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting and had six assists.

Two impressive performances against top-tier teams, getting mentioned in the same breath as a franchise icon, and making the cut for Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge? That’s a solid week for a 20-year-old backup guard.

Best Wing: Evan Turner, Boston Celtics

Miami Heat rookie Justise Winslow technically owns the second-best field goal percentage (63.2 percent) among wing players over the past seven days. But it would be a stretch to label Winslow the best shooter at his position with just one double-digit scoring performance to his name this month.

Instead, we’ll bestow that title upon Evan Turner, who isn’t exactly a slam-dunk choice himself. Even though he clanked his only two 3-point attempts of the week, Turner’s efficiency inside the arc was too much to ignore.

Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Turner’s percentages compared to the league average.

Turner averaged 13.3 points in Boston’s four games this week, all victories, and performed like a maestro from mid-range. The 27-year-old converted 22 of 38 shots overall (57.9 percent).
If you take issue with a guy who hasn’t even made 15 percent of his 3-pointers being classified as “shooter of the week,” realize Turner was agonizingly close to registering a ridiculous buzzer-beater as his first successful trey since Jan. 12.

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If Turner had just moved that foot back a couple inches, the monkey would have been off his back. At least he’s a good sport about it.

Best Forward/Center: Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers have won three of their last six games and produced one of the league’s hottest shooters for the second straight week. After point guard Isaiah Canaan carried the torch for Philadelphia last week, this time it’s Noel, who has matured into an efficient scorer this season.

Noel ended November with a dreadful 40.8 percent shooting percentage. He’s now in the top 10 of the field goal percentage leaderboard (52.7 percent) and is shooting 62.6 percent in January. That’d be good for second in the NBA if he maintained throughout the season.

 

The 21-year-old had to leave Philly’s Jan. 20 clash against Orlando with migraine symptoms, but he recovered shoot 20-for-27 in three games this week. That includes one savage posterization of newly crowned All-Star Andre Drummond on Wednesday night.

The absence of rookie Jahlil Okafor, who sat out two games this week with the flu, probably contributed to Noel’s improved play this week since he had more room to operate in the post. But he’s proven over the last couple months that he can be a valuable piece for the 76ers with or without Okafor on the floor.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters of the week in the NBA


VIDEO: Paul Millsap powers Atlanta past Portland

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

While the East Coast has been preparing for a crippling snowstorm this weekend, some of the Eastern Conference’s standout shooters are heating up nets around the NBA.

All three of this week’s hottest shooters (guard, wing, forward/center), brought to you by interactive data visualization site PointAfter, play in the suddenly formidable Eastern Conference.

We’ll start with this week’s in-form guard, who was toiling on the bench for a team that was on pace to be historically bad just 10 days ago.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 15-21.

Best Guard: Isaiah Canaan, Philadelphia 76ers

On Jan. 11, Canaan was slapped with a DNP-CD for the first time this season. Warming the bench for the league’s worst team must feel like a low point, especially for someone who lost two starting jobs in the last month on a team that won four of its first 41 games.

First, Ish Smith took Philly by storm and stole the starting point guard spot from Canaan. Then, the 24-year-old Canaan was replaced by Nik Stauskas at shooting guard after he endured a brutal cold stretch to begin 2016, making just 5-of-26 shots in his first four games of the New Year.

Canaan received another chance when Stauskas injured his shoulder in the very next game after the DNP-CD, however, and has responded with aplomb.

Over the last seven days, Canaan has sunk 14-of-26 attempts (53.8 percent), including 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range. He averaged 15 points per game in Philly’s three contests, which included two resounding wins over Portland and Orlando and a respectable double-overtime loss to the Knicks.

That’s right — the Sixers actually have a winning record for the trailing week.

Smith has justifiably received most of the plaudits for the squad’s recent turnaround, but Canaan merits some praise for adjusting to a different role on offense – even if it took a little while, and ultimately seems unsustainable.

His recent marks are also far better than his seasonal statistics (35.8 percent overall, 36.3 percent from 3-point range), so Stauskas probably shouldn’t lose any sleep over Canaan potentially becoming a permanent fixture in Philly’s starting backcourt.

Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Canaan’s percentages compared to the league average.

Best Wing: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

After returning last week from a month-long layoff caused by a leg injury, Beal has shown why he’s so valuable to the Wizards. Washington has won three of the four games he’s played in — including double-digit victories over Miami and Indiana — thanks in part to Beal’s lights-out shooting.

Dating back to last Friday’s 118-104 road triumph over the Pacers, Beal has converted 20-of-36 attempts (55.6 percent) to average 18.7 points in less than 24 minutes per contest.

The former No. 3 overall pick also cashed 8-of-15 3-pointers over that span. Beal has incorporated long-range shooting into his game more than ever before this year, and deservedly so, after incrementally bettering his touch from beyond the arc in each of his four NBA seasons.

If Beal can keep up his red-hot shooting in extended time (he’s been eased back onto the court, and sat out the second part of a back-to-back over the weekend), he could boost the Wizards back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture by week’s end.


VIDEO: Bradley Beal talks after a big game against the Pacers

Best Forward/Center: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks had a jam-packed week, playing five games (three on the road) since last Friday. But their rock-steady stretch-four remained efficient through the tiresome stretch.

Millsap knocked down at least half of his shots in every matchup, and ended the week averaging a double-double (18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds) on 58.7 percent shooting and 50 percent from 3-point range.

He has quietly surpassed Al Horford and Jeff Teague to become Atlanta’s best player this season. NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker contended earlier this month that Atlanta’s leader in points (18.4), rebounds (8.8) and steals (1.9) deserved a starting nod in the All-Star Game, and that’s not a far-fetched take by any means.

The 30-year-old’s career-high 23.7 PER ranks second among power forwards, behind only Anthony Davis.

Alas, Millsap finished a distant 15th in fan voting among Eastern Conference frontcourt players, accumulating a mere 7.3 percent of the votes that Carmelo Anthony secured to clinch the East’s final starting spot.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant to Warriors: ‘Make history’ | Perkins, Davis lament state of Pelicans | Butler puts in epic performance in Philly

No. 1: Bryant encourages Warriors to go ‘make history’ — With their victory last night over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors improved to 37-3. That start matches the mark the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls had through 40 games when they won an NBA-record 72 games. After the win, Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who played against the dominant players (Michael Jordan in the 1990s and Stephen Curry today) encouraged Golden State’s stars to push for the 73-win mark, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

Before Kobe Bryant left the Oracle Arena court for the final time Thursday night, the Los Angeles Lakers icon was greeted by a trio of Golden State Warriors who have been terrorizing the rest of the league lately.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all surrounded Bryant and chatted him up following their team’s 116-98 win over Bryant and the Lakers.

“You guys have got to go ahead and make history,” Bryant told Curry.

“I got to chase you,” Curry replied, a response that Bryant said he too would have used.

“Damn right,” Bryant told Curry. “Absolutely. Come and get it.”

Bryant also signed a pair of his game-worn sneakers for Green.

The message Bryant wrote: “Make history.”

A passing of the torch? Perhaps.

“I think so,” Bryant said. “It’s their time. It’s their time. It’s their time to step up and play and see how many championships they can win, see how many gold medals they can win. I had my run. Now it’s important for them to carry it forward.”

But the Warriors heard Bryant’s message loud and clear.

“He told us to chase history, so we’re going to try to chase it now like he did in his career,” Curry said. “He paved the way.”

***

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

***

No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

***

No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

***

No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 25


VIDEO: LeBron James on the Christmas Day matchup with Golden State

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs not poking the bear | Bulls’ tandem not matching up | Sixers get Smith back | Hawks looking at big picture

No. 1: Cavs not poking the bear — There are a few teams around the league that have challenged the Golden State Warriors with their words more than they’ve challenged them on the basketball court. And it’s clear that some bulletin board material has kept the Warriors motivated through a 27-1 start. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the first title contender that Golden State is facing this season, but they won’t provide the champs any more motivation than that. ESPN‘s Brian Windhorst writes how LeBron James and the Cavs have kept their words to a minimum in anticipation of Friday’s marquee matchup…

James has lightly touched on references to the Warriors this season as he has tried to inspire his teammates at times.

“We lost in the Finals, we didn’t win,” James said after a loss in mid-November as the Warriors were racing out to a 24-0 start. “And the team that beat us looks more hungry than we are, so it shouldn’t be that way.”

But since then, James has avoided most references to the defending champions. If he has talked more about it to his team in meetings, it has stayed private. When asked how closely he watches the Warriors, as reporters probe for hints of obsession, James said he watches all games, and because he plays in the East he often watches Western teams, including the Warriors, after his team’s games are over. In other words, James is passing on offering up red meat.

In the days leading up to the trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, James and his teammates have gone full cliché when it comes to this anticipated game, even with Irving returning from his knee injury in time to make the Cavs whole again for the first time since April. The same goes for coach David Blatt.

“There’s a lot of good teams in the league,” Blatt said. “Certainly, Golden State is one of the best teams, but they’re not all we talk about. You really can’t afford spending too much time thinking about what other teams are doing in the league.”

***

No. 2: Bulls’ tandem not matching up — When you’re discussing the best backcourts in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls’ duo of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler has name recognition, but not much substantive evidence in a case for inclusion. Butler is one of the best two-way wings in the league, but Rose has struggled in his third season back since originally blowing out his knee. Rose has the fourth-worst effective field goal percentage among 209 players who have attempted at least 150 shots this season and his free throw rate is at a career low. Our Steve Aschburner goes deeper into the contrast between the Bulls’ “star” tandem and the one they’re facing on Christmas…

Then there is Chicago’s Butler and Rose, who ought to be a hybrid of Golden State’s backcourt stars and OKC’s nasty pair. One’s a former MVP, the other is an All-Star. They’re both capable of initiating offense and getting hot enough to carry a team through games, even for weeks.

But the two have taken turns more than they’ve meshed. Rose established himself before Butler arrived, then slipped into the background due to injuries. Meanwhile, Butler filled the Bulls’ void, providing as one of the NBA’s best two-way wing players what they were missing from their formerly explosive point guard.

Now that they’re both in the rotation and relatively healthy, fans at United Center have seen more chafing and dysfunction than chemistry and synchronicity. Butler recently called out new bench boss Fred Hoiberg for not coaching “hard enough,” with insiders suggesting he had Rose in mind as one of those cut too much slack. Rose, meanwhile, continues to get called out by pretty much everybody in Chicago for not being the player he once was, whether the surgeries themselves or a wariness of contact are to blame.

Durant and Westbrook are the best duo these days and, arguably, the best ever. When you look at their numbers in the seasons they’ve shared — 28.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 3.7 apg for Durant, 27.3, 6.9 and 3.5 for Westbrook in their eight seasons as teammates — a pretty good case can be made that they’re as dangerous as, or more so than, West and Baylor. Those two Lakers greats put up similarly staggering numbers across 11 seasons together: West 27.8, 6.1 and 6.2 to Baylor’s 26.7, 12.4 and 4.4

***

No. 3: Sixers get Smith back — The first transaction of the Jerry Colangelo era in Philadelphia was the fixing of a mistake made earlier this year. On Thursday, the Sixers, desperate for help at point guard, traded two second round picks to New Orleans for Ish Smith, who Philly didn’t re-sign this summer. The Pelicans had signed Smith the day before the season started and, with their backcourt finally looking healthy, managed to turn that desperation signing into a couple of assets. Tom Moore of The Intelligencer has the story from the Sixers’ side…

It appears Jerry Colangelo has made his first moves since joining the 76ers.

The new Sixers’ chairman of basketball operations seemed to be the driving force behind trading a pair of second-round picks to the Pelicans in exchange for point guard Ish Smith, who played with the Sixers last season and is a favorite of Nerlens Noel.

To make room for Smith on the 15-man roster, the Sixers waived guard Tony Wroten.

Smith, a five-year NBA veteran, is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 assists in 27 games with New Orleans this season. He’s fifth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.42) and joins a team ranked last in turnovers.

Smith appeared in 25 games (14 starts) as a Sixer in 2014-15, averaging 12 points and 6.1 assists for Philadelphia. The team was interested in re-signing him, but he turned down more guaranteed money from other teams before eventually agreeing to a non-guaranteed league-minimum contract with the Wizards (Washington waived him).

***

No. 4: Hawks looking at big picture — The Atlanta Hawks have already lost as many games between Thanksgiving and the All-Star break this season (9-5) as they did last season (36-5). They’re certainly not taking the league by storm like they did a year ago. But as our Sekou Smith writes, there’s no looking back in Atlanta and right now, the 2015-16 Hawks are beginning to find their way…

The win over Detroit marked a full circle turn for the Hawks, who couldn’t handle Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson during their surprising home loss to Stan Van Gundy’s upstart team on opening night. They handled the Pistons this time, outscoring them in the paint (56-52) and doubling them up in bench scoring (34-17), thanks in large part to Dennis Schroder’s 14 points.

“We’ve just been more consistent,” Kyle Korver said. ‘We played good in spurts in the early part of the season, quarter-to-quarter and game-by-game … but this is as close to a complete game as we’ve played in a good little while. We’re a bit more focused. We’re playing with more purpose. And we’re doing it for longer stretches.”

And yet they are still not playing with enough focus and purpose for long enough stretches to satisfy Mike Budenholzer, who insists his team still hasn’t quite put it all together.

“We’re getting closer to playing a complete game,” Budenholzer said. “I think we’re obviously getting closer to where we want to be.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Suns suspended Markieff Morris two games for Wednesday’s towel-throwing incident … Our Scott Howard-Cooper compares the Warriors to the Showtime Lakers … The final game on Friday is the final Christmas Day game for the all-time leading Christmas Day scorerThe Heat like each other … A quiet fourth quarter from Kristaps Porzingis may be a cause for concern for the KnicksThis isn’t a great time for the Bulls to be playing one of the league’s four best teams.

ICYMI: The Starters rank the top 10 plays of the season so far:


VIDEO: Top 10 2015-16 plays from The Starters

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

***

No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

***

No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

***

No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 12



VIDEO: Friday’s Fast Break

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Green rescue Warriors in Boston | Shumpert’s return sparks Cavaliers’ defensive effort | Aldridge finding his groove with Spurs | Report: D’Antoni set to join Brown’s staff in Philadelphia

No. 1: Curry, Green rescue Warriors in Boston No Klay Thompson. No Harrison Barnes. No problem for the Golden State Warriors. As long as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are in the lineup, it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to stop the Golden State Warriors and their historic march. They improved to 24-0 Friday night in Boston, outlasting the Celtics in a double-overtime thriller with Curry and Green coming to the rescue. They are one win away, tonight in Milwaukee (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) from completing the first 7-0 road trip in league history. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains how the Celtics escaped Boston with the streak intact:

The Warriors won despite missing starters Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who were both nursing sprained ankles. The Warriors won despite shooting a season-low 39.3 percent and Curry committing a season-high eight turnovers. They won despite trailing by five points with less than two minutes left in regulation.

“We never get rattled,” Draymond Green said of what he learned about the team. “We continued to fight. We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other, and we trust each other. So, nothing new. The same old, same old.”

Green thumped his chest and wrecked the Celtics with 24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and five steals, playing a career-high 50 minutes and with five fouls during the overtime periods.

Andre Iguodala scored nine of his 13 points in the two overtime periods — including the go-ahead putback layup — and added 10 rebounds in 44 minutes.

Curry exhausted himself playing 47 minutes, going 6 for 13 from 3-point range and scoring 23 of his points after halftime despite finding little room to operate without Thompson on the court.

Avery Bradley and Evan Turner made things difficult, but Curry outlasted the Celtics. He was the one on the free throw line, capping off his night by going 14 for 14 from the charity stripe with two of them giving the Warriors a three-point lead with 13.4 seconds left in the second overtime.

“In my opinion, he’s the best player that this game has right now,” Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. “He can score in so many different ways. They did a phenomenal job on him, and he scored 38. But that’s how superstars are in this league. I played with Kobe (Bryant). I know what that’s like.”

Ian Clark’s first career start came at shooting guard alongside Curry. Leandro Barbosa played through an illness with Thompson, whose ankle was not yet 100 percent, sidelined.

The Warriors still extended their streak to 28 straight regular-season wins dating back to last season, making it the second longest in league history. They did it in the sixth game of their seven-game trip.

“I think the beauty of our team is when we get out there, nobody’s thinking about if we lose, the streak’s over,” Curry said.

“I think that’s why we are where we are. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, (we’re) staying in the moment. We’re having a blast chasing history.”

***

No. 2: Shumpert’s return sparks Cavaliers’ defensive effort LeBron James did his part, as always, to make sure the Cleveland Cavaliers handled their business against the Orlando Magic. But he had plenty of help, including a welcome spark from the season debut of Iman Shumpert, whose attention to detail on defense had been sorely missed. Shumpert kicked off his season in typical style (his hair was a showstopper, per usual and he made an immediate impact on both ends of the floor). Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com has more on Shumpert’s opening night:

Shumpert didn’t start the game. Cavs head coach David Blatt went with Jared Cunningham, hoping to ease Shumpert back and get him some more practice time before he takes back his previous role as starter, one he excelled in during the Cavaliers’ playoff run.

At the 6:05 mark of the first quarter, Shumpert entered, making his presence felt immediately.

I remember having a conversation about Shumpert last year with Cavaliers general manager David Griffin when I was trying to pinpoint Shumpert’s value after the trade.

Griffin explained how Shumpert not only provided the Cavs athleticism on the perimeter — something lacking while the team was giving minutes to worn-down veterans Shawn Marion and Mike Miller — but Shumpert gave Cleveland an edge.

They needed a player like him, one who gained a reputation early in his career as a hard-nosed defender.

That edge, an intangible quality, became clear on Friday night.

He finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 25 productive minutes. He also helped hold the Magic to 28-of-72 (38.9 percent) from the field. That’s his true impact, which can’t always be measured by the box score.

Shumpert is a rare defensive playmaker who brings much-needed toughness.

The schedule didn’t help Orlando, playing at home for the first time after an exhausting five-game Western Conference road trip that ended in Phoenix on Wednesday night. But it isn’t a coincidence that the Cavs played their best all-around defensive game on the night Shumpert debuted.

In the previous four games, Cleveland had allowed 102.5 points per night.

***

No. 3: Aldridge finding his groove with Spurs Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge needed a little time adjust to life in an ensemble cast in San Antonio. But now that he’s comfortable, the rest of the league will have to deal with him. And that’s a daunting challenge, as the Los Angeles Lakers (one of his many suitors during free agency over the summer) found out Friday night and the Atlanta Hawks will find out tonight (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) at Philips Arena when the Spurs battle their Eastern Conference doppelgänger. Our very own Fran Blinebury examines Aldridge’s all-business adjustment:

Aldridge scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and did not play the fourth quarter in the Spurs 107-89 win over the Lakers on Friday night.

“I’m getting into a rhythm now and feeling more comfortable,” Aldridge said. “I’m starting to feel like myself.”

The Spurs keep cruising along with the second-best record in the NBA, while the Lakers are now 3-20 and left to wonder how things might look if they’d have landed Aldridge to be the key cog in their offensive attack.

“It is a big what-if,” said Lakers coach Byron Scott.

Scott said the Lakers received the same feedback after their first meeting with Aldridge last summer and changed their strategy when given a second chance.

“The second meeting was just myself and (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak)…It was all basketball,” Scott said. “I think the first presentation, I think we probably looked at it more as a business presentation more than basketball and that’s probably where we made our mistake.”

Right from the start, the Spurs’ approach that eventually landed Aldridge to a four-year, $84-million contract couldn’t have been more different than L.A.’s.

“We don’t try to convince people, very honestly,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “I think it’s overblown, like we’re going to have some kind of salesman deal. We tried to sell Jason Kidd (2003) and it didn’t work. We had mariachis and everything. We had all kinds of stuff and after that I decided never again. If they come, they come. If they don’t, I don’t care.

“It’s as simple as that, especially for a guy that’s been in the league for nine years. You know what he can do. You know what he can’t do. You know what you like. You know what you don’t like. Whatever it might be.

“But more importantly, he knows who you are and he knows what team he would like to go to for whatever reason. So everything is pretty much out there on the table. If a guy had been in the league for a split second and then he had to make some decisions, it’s different. But he’s seen a lot. He’s been around a long time and we just did the polite thing. We met with him. Our guys talked to him. He talked to us and asked a few questions, he and his agents and that was that.”

Aldridge came into Friday’s game averaging 15.4 points, lowest since his rookie season. He’s also struggled with his shot, making a career-low 45.5 percent. But the Spurs aren’t making a peep of complaint.

“He’s been great,” Popovich said. “It’s a totally new system. When you’re playing with a whole group of new players, it takes time to understand where your place is. Sometimes I think he’s deferred too much because he’s trying to fit in and usually that’s the right thing to do when you enter an organization. Any of us who has a new job defers in the beginning and tries to fit.”

***

No. 4: Report: D’Antoni set to join Brown’s staff in Philadelphia — The extreme franchise makeover in Philadelphia that began with the hiring of Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations earlier this week could get another high-profile addition, and soon. The Sixers are reportedly in talks with Mike D’Antoni to join Brett Brown‘s staff as an assistant coach. Brown’s two-year contract extension was announced Friday afternoon and soon after word of the possibility of D’Antoni coming on board began circulating. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer provides some context:

It turns out that Jerry Colangelo doesn’t have to be in Philadelphia to have an influence on the 76ers.

The team’s recently hired chairman of basketball operations is in talks with Mike D’Antoni to become an associate head coach with the Sixers, according to Yahoo Sports. The website said that Colangelo and coach have spoken to D’Antoni about a role on the Sixers bench that could be filled in late December.

The Sixers introduced Colangelo as chairman on Monday. The former four-team executive of the year for the Phoenix Suns flew back to Phoenix on Tuesday.

D’Antoni and Colangelo have a relationship that dates backs to the Suns and USA basketball. The 64-year-old spent five seasons as the Suns head coach.Colangelo owned the Suns when D’Antoni was named their coach in 2003.  he coached four teams in a total of  12 seasons.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Kevin Durant takeover in the fourth quarter for the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night … Kyrie Irving is getting close to his return for the Cleveland Cavaliers … The confidence in D’Angelo Russell’s game is growing in Los AngelesNick Stauskas is struggling with his shot and all of the losing in Philly … The Hornets unleashed the Jeremy Lin-led bench mob on the Memphis Grizzlies … Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett notches another career milestone …

 

Silver clarifies his role in Colangelo hire in Philadelphia


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Jerry Colangelo joining the Philadelphia 76ers as chairman of basketball operations

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made the introduction, but contrary to rumblings making the rounds, did not influence the Philadelphia 76ers’ hiring of Jerry Colangelo this week as their chairman of basketball operations. 

Silver clarified his role in the situation today with Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson on Sirius/XM NBA Radio.

“The only role I played was making an introduction to Jerry for Josh Harris,” Silver said. “But I would say that this was something that was initiated entirely by Josh Harris and he’s the principal owner and governor of the Philadelphia 76ers. Contrary to what I’ve read in some of the reports, this was not arm-twisting from the league office telling the 76ers they had to change course or other owners calling me and saying you have to force the 76ers to do something.”

You can listen to the full interview here:

 

Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes dead at 87


VIDEO: Best Players of All-Time: Dolph Schayes

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITYDolph Schayes, a 12-time NBA All-Star and member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary team, passed away Thursday morning at the age of 87, following a long battle with cancer.

A Bronx native, the 6-8 Schayes played collegiately at New York University, before spending his entire professional career in Syracuse with the Nationals. He was a member of Syracuse’s NBA championship team in 1955, when he averaged 18.5 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game. Schayes was an All-Star every season between 1951 and 1962, and made six All-NBA first teams over that span.

In 1963, the Nationals moved to Philadelphia and became known as the 76ers, and Schayes spent that inaugural season in Philly as the franchise’s player/coach. After retiring as a player, he continued coaching, winning NBA Coach of the Year three seasons later in Wilt Chamberlain’s first full season with the Sixers. Schayes would later work for the NBA as the director of officiating.

Schayes was inducted into the Nasimith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973. His son, Danny Schayes, spent 18 seasons in the NBA.

For a detailed account of Schayes’ career, his Legends Profile is available here.

Update: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released the following statement:

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Scott’s job safe | Thompson continues development | Melo not getting calls | Jefferson suspended five games

No. 1: Report: Scott’s job safe After losing last night in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers’ fourth loss in a row, the Lakers dropped to 3-19 on the season, the second-worst record in the NBA. While it seemed likely that the Los Angeles Lakers, with their mix of youth and veteran talent, would probably have to be lucky to qualify for the playoffs in Byron Scott‘s second season as head coach, few people expected it to be this bad, this early. But according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Scott’s job is probably safe for the season

His star player has kept trying to fight Father Time with little success. His NBA lottery picks have accepted unexpected bench roles publicly, but admittedly expressed initial frustration.

He has also overseen the Lakers’ worst start in franchise history, a 123-122 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday at Target Center marking the team’s fourth consecutive loss as the Western Conference’s worst team.

But Byron Scott still has enough support from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss that he is expected to coach through the rest of the 2015-16 season, according to team sources familiar with the situation. With Scott signing a four-year, $17 million deal last summer, the Lakers plan to evaluate his future once the 2015-16 season ends, according to a team source.

The Lakers are not happy with the persistent losing, obviously. But Kupchak and Buss sympathize with Scott on handling what one team source called “a no-win situation.”

On one hand, Scott has felt pressure to handle Kobe Bryant‘s workload in his 20th and final NBA season. Scott remains mindful of Bryant’s struggles, averaging 16.2 points per game average on 30.6-percent shooting in 31.3 minutes per game. But the Lakers also want to play Bryant significant minutes out of reverence for his five NBA titles and to enjoy his farewell tour.

But out of respect for Bryant’s extensive accomplishments that have spanned five NBA championships and his current retirement tour, the Lakers have understood Scott’s tendency to lean on him heavily. They are also mindful of the challenge it takes to manage Bryant’s competitive nature. “I want him to enjoy this as much as possible,” Scott said of Bryant. “You’ve never seen him smile as much on the basketball court or talk to his opponents as much as he’s done the last two or three weeks. He’s at a very good place in his life and his career.”

On the other hand, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell represent the Lakers’ long-term future after they selected them seventh overall in 2014 and second overall in 2015. Russell posted a career-high 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting in 32 minutes against Minnesota. Russell added 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. But Randle and Russell both face learning curves with their development. Randle lacks consistency with his jump shot, while Russell has struggled on defense.

The Lakers have granted Scott the autonomy to coach his team without interference. But Kupchak and/or Buss will likely meet with Scott next week after the team’s eight-game trip to gain a better understanding of his thought process on how he will develop the team’s young players, according to a team source familiar with the situation.

***

No. 2: Thompson continues development While the Warriors keep reeling off wins to start this season, Stephen Curry remains the headliner, drawing hundreds of fans each night just to see his warm up routine. But not far behind Curry in terms of popularity and skill is the Warriors’ 25-year-old shooting guard, Klay Thompson. As Thompson told Nima Zarrabi from SLAM, he’s continued evolving as a person while he keeps putting in work as a player

Despite his heavy off-court demand, the goal has not changed for Klay. He wants to continue to transcend his game — he’s only 25 and knows there is still plenty of room for growth. He is excited about working with new Warriors assistant coach Steve Nash to add new wrinkles to his arsenal.

“I worked out with him twice when I was in L.A. and learned a lot about what I need to get better at,” Thompson says. “We didn’t even shoot the ball that much — we did a lot of technical work on things like balance. He’s still in great shape and really gave me some great pointers on how to play at a lower level and work on my balance so I can be in a better position to make plays. I know how good he is going to be for me.”

Thompson’s heard the whispers about teams attempting to mimic the Warriors’ style of play. The notion that teams across the League are planning to attempt more threes, play a little more “small ball.”

“People seem to think it’s easy,” says Thompson, who’s averaging 18.2 ppg through the Warriors’ ongoing and insane 23-game winning streak. “To play our style you really need to have five guys on the court that can shoot, pass and dribble. Not a lot of teams have that, you know?”

His growth as a player has coincided with his development as a communicator. Thoughtful and insightful, he has become a media favorite when it comes to snagging a quality quote.

It once seemed as if he despised having to talk.

“Ask anybody on the team, I said very few words here my first year,” Thompson says. “I feel a lot more comfortable around the facility and all the guys. Even with Bob Myers and our owners Joe and Peter — it’s easier to joke around with those guys being in my fifth year. But they really may have only heard me say 10 words my entire rookie year. It’s been a drastic change.”

***

No. 3: Melo not getting calls Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has always played a physical style of basketball, which includes getting to the free throw line regularly. Except when he doesn’t get to the line: So far this season, Anthony is averaging 5.7 free throw attempts per game, a career low. And as Mark Berman writes in the New York Post, Anthony understands why he doesn’t get the calls he thinks he should be getting

A candid Carmelo Anthony explained his recent frustrations at not getting enough foul calls, saying he’s been told by referees he’s the most “difficult player” to officiate and vowing he will never flop.

Anthony, who had received a technical foul in two straight games before the Knicks’ 106-85 destruction at the Jazz’s hands on Wednesday, was in a five-game slump with his shooting percentage dipping to 40.6 percent on the season. He admitted his wife, La La, chastised him for yelling at female referee Lauren Holtkamp in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks.

“They just tell me I’m the most difficult player to referee in the NBA,” Anthony said at the morning shootaround in Utah before going 3 of 11 on the night. “I’ve heard that a couple of times. It’s unclear on who is creating the contact. My goal is to go to the basket. If I’m creating the contact going toward the basket [and] I get hit, it’s a foul.”

Anthony is one of the most physical drivers in the game, but said he feels he’s recently not being effective because he’s not getting to the free-throw line.

“I always get fouled,” Anthony said. “That’s what’s frustrating me. You play so hard, work so hard and don’t benefit from that. You look at other guys, you touch them and look at them wrong and get fouls. It’s a frustrating thing for me as a guy who likes to go to the basket, play in the paint. I like to play physical. It’s frustrating.

“I’m human,” Anthony added. “Those frustrations kick in at times, especially when you’re down there banging and know you’re getting banged on. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to play another way.”

So does he need to sell the foul more?

“See, I don’t know how to flop, that’s the thing,” Anthony said. “Nowadays guys know how to flop, get hit and put their head back. I don’t know how to flop. I won’t even look right trying to do that. I won’t even feel right trying it.

“A lot of times I get hit and I still continue to get to my spots just because I’m big and strong. A lot of guys get hit and they stop. I’m not saying they’re flopping, but they’re lighter than me. I can take a lot more physicality.”

***

No. 4: Jefferson suspended five games The Charlotte Hornets have started to come together this season, winning three in a row and compiling a 13-8 record, the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. But while their All-NBA center Al Jefferson has missed a few games with a calf injury, it was learned yesterday that he’ll be out a bit longer: The NBA announced that Jefferson will have to serve a five game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, writes the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell

“I’m a man and I have to take full responsibility for my actions,” Jefferson said during a media availability before Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. “I have to ask for forgiveness and put it behind me and try to move on.

“Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked on your head for your eyes to open up; to handle certain situations.”

Jefferson said he was first made aware he had failed a drug test about two weeks ago. The league informed him and the Hornets Tuesday that the suspension was coming.

Jefferson becomes a free agent in July after the three-season contract he signed in the summer of 2013 expires. It is unclear how this suspension might affect the Hornets’ interest in re-signing him, but the team issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone Jefferson’s behavior.

“We are disappointed in Al’s decisions that led to this suspension. As an organization, we do not condone this behavior,” the team statement read. “We have addressed this with Al. He is regretful and understands that we expect him to learn from this mistake.”

This is the second time in as many seasons the NBA has suspended a Hornets player. Last season the league suspended small forward Jeff Taylor 24 games after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence in Michigan. Taylor now plays for Real Madrid in Spain.

Jefferson was arrested for driving under the influence in the winter of 2010 outside Minneapolis when he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves suspended him two games after that incident.

Jefferson declined to specify what the drug test revealed. A source familiar with the current situation said marijuana is the substance this time connected to Jefferson.

Based on wording in the collective bargaining agreement, a five-game suspension indicates Jefferson was likely already in the marijuana-related league protocol. Under terms of the CBA, a first violation places you in the league’s program. A second violation would result in a $25,000 fine. A third violation would result in a five-game suspension.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Joel Embiid sighting recently in Philadelphia … Kent Bazemore played the first half last night in Dallas with his shorts on backward, then hit a game-winner … Paul Pierce hasn’t made any decisions about his future … Gregg Popovich hates three-pointersReggie Miller on another great shooter, Steph Curry … The Pistons should be getting Jodie Meeks and Brandon Jennings back soon … The Pacers’ Solomon Hill may be on the trade blockNick Young joked that his defensive abilities are similar to Drake‘s “Hotline Bling” …


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