Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix Suns’

Analytics Art: Hill, Booker, Morris among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Pacers top Magic in Orlando

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Throughout the 82-game grind of the NBA season, rest can mean a world of difference wherever players find it.

That can mean taking a day off on the second (or first) day of a back-to-back set, sitting out during the fourth quarter of blowout victories (as Stephen Curry has done often this season), or, more recently, the rest provided via February’s All-Star break. In theory, the hiatus provides a time for many players to refuel for the stretch run. Fresh legs generally translate into players performing to the best of their abilities, but that isn’t always the case.

As the PointAfter team discovered for the week following All-Star weekend, it sometimes takes more than rest to quash shooting slumps.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Feb. 19-25.

Guard: George Hill, Indiana Pacers

As a 29-year-old, eight-year veteran, George Hill has been around the block. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich once extolled Hill as “my favorite player” prior to the trade that sent him to Indiana in exchange for Kawhi Leonard, according to Express-NewsJeff McDonald. That’s high praise coming from one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.

Of course, even those who gain favor from genius basketball minds are not immune to shooting slumps. And, boy, did Hill come out of the All-Star break cold.

Hill shot 3-for-11 on Feb. 19 in a win against Oklahoma City — though he nearly recorded a triple-double with 11 rebounds and nine assists to accompany his nine points.

From there, Hill was 2-for-11 against the Orlando Magic, and then he missed all seven of his field goal attempts in a loss to the Miami Heat.

He rebounded nicely against the New York Knicks by converting five of eight shots, but even that outing only managed to raise his shooting percentage to 27 percent over his last four contests.

Yikes.

Wing: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

For Suns fans fishing for something (anything) positive during the course of a nightmare season, Booker has been a lifeline.

The 19-year-old rookie provides a glimmer of hope for the future in the desert. And while he deserves praise for his performance in the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout — finishing a respectable third place behind Klay Thompson and Curry — there’s a chance his shooting stroke lost its passport in Toronto before Booker’s trip back to U.S. soil.

In Booker’s best outing since his first go-around of All-Star festivities, he finished 3-of-9 from the field in a loss against the mighty Spurs. In the other three games, he went 3-for-11, 2-for-10 and 3-for-12.

Add it all up, and Booker shot a woeful 26.2 percent over his last four outings. All four of those games were Suns losses, and Phoenix has not won a game in over a month.

But hey, at least the rook shoots a respectable 39.6 percent from three-point range on the season.

Forward/Center: Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons

The first Morris twin to be traded away from Phoenix, Marcus hasn’t even cracked 40 percent shooting in a single game since the All-Star break.

He shot a ghastly 30.6 percent from the field over the course of the week. His best game from a percentage standpoint over that stretch came in an upset win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in which “Mook” went 6-of-16 shooting. He converted just one of his six shots from beyond the arc in that affair.

Though Morris caught fire throughout December by averaging 15.2 points on 46.9 percent shooting from the field and 44.2 percent from deep, he’s come careening back down to earth since. In fact, his shooting percentages (mainly from beyond the arc) look ugly compared to the last two seasons spent with the Suns.

The Pistons continue to play better when Morris is on the court, but that can be tied to the fact that the 6-foot-9 forward plays most of his minutes with Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

In any case, Detroit needs Morris to lock in for the stretch run if the Pistons are going to have hope of making the playoffs in 2016.

Ben Leibowitz 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 PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

***

No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

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No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

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No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.

Warriors Trio Headlines ‘Big’ All-Star Saturday Night

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew gives analysis.

NEW YORK CITY — All-Star Saturday night is going to be big. Literally.

Tonight’s announcement of the participants for All-Star Saturday night revealed a lot of familiar names and faces, but also a couple of intriguing players taking part in contests they haven’t been involved with in previous years. And while the Golden State Warriors have been nearly unstoppable on the court this season, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the Warriors’ big three will attempt to bring home several different kinds of hardware.

NBA All-Star 2016The evening will open with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which will be radically different this season. Last year, the event was populated entirely by point guards, with Houston’s Patrick Beverley winning over Brandon Knight. This season, Beverley is slated to return and compete against several guards, such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Jordan Clarkson from the Lakers.

But the twist here is that they will be in a field that includes several big men, including Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. It will also be interesting to see what kind of performance we get from New Orleans’ multi-talented center Anthony Davis, who played guard throughout high school before a growth spurt moved him to the post. And the leading contender among the big men participating must be Golden State’s Draymond Green, who currently leads the League in triple-doubles with 10.

VIDEO: Wolves’ Zach LaVine will defend his title.

We can also safely assume that the evening will close with a bang. Last year’s Verizon Slam Dunk was one of the most electrifying contests in years, as then-Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine completed a series of athletic jams. LaVine will return this season, and be challenged by a field that includes Denver guard Will Barton, who has had something of a breakout campaign in this his fourth NBA season.

LaVine and Barton will be joined by two big men, in a contest where big men have traditionally struggled to score highly. Second year Orlando forward Aaron Gordon has had plenty of athletic dunks in his short NBA career, and Detroit center Andre Drummond has also shown plenty of bounce and skill around the basket, as the NBA’s leading rebounder this season.

In between these events will be the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which in a league increasingly reliant on the three-point shot, is rapidly becoming the evening’s signature event. While last year’s three-point contest was recognized as having one of the sweetest-shooting fields in the history of the event, this year’s event appears to be equally star-studded:

VIDEO: Steph Curry will bring his sharp shooting to Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

Stephen Curry – Curry won last year’s event, then went on to win the NBA’s MVP award and an NBA title. Leads the NBA this season in three pointers made (232) by a wide margin (77 more than his Golden State teammate Klay Thompson).

James Harden – The Houston guard finished just behind Curry in last season’s MVP voting, and the Rockets have gotten off to a slow start this season. Still, Harden is third this season in total three-pointers made (140).

Klay Thompson – The other Splash Brother has a chance to outshine Curry. Thompson is making 43-percent of his three-point attempts this season.

Khris Middleton – The Bucks swingman is averaging a career-best two made three-pointers per game, and knocking them in at 41-percent clip.

Kyle Lowry – The Raptors guard will surely enjoy a home court advantage. Lowry is averaging a career-high 2.8 threes per game, and making them at a career-best 39 percent success rate.

JJ Redick – Clippers guard Reddick has always been known as a sharp-shooter, but this season has been his masterpiece. In 45 games for Los Angeles, Redick has made 120 threes, converting at a league-best 48-percent clip.

Chris Bosh – Why just have big men in the other two Saturday night contests? To be fair, the power forward Bosh has made himself into a good three-point shooter, and he’s relied on his long-range shot more than ever this season. Consider this: During Bosh’s first nine NBA seasons, he attempted a combined 228 threes; This season he’s attempted 213 threes in Miami’s first 50 games.

Devin Booker – Booker is the youngest contestant (he’s 19 years old) in the three-point shootout, but he’s already proven he’s one of the NBA’s best shooters, connecting on threes for the Phoenix Suns at a 42-percent rate this season.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 13, from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.

 

Blogtable: Player who is most likely to be traded first is _____?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on Rockets? | Player most likely to be traded? |
One player you’d love to see in Dunk Contest?



VIDEORyan Anderson sizzles in a win against the Kings

> Most likely to be traded before the Feb. 18 deadline: Rudy Gay, Jeff Teague, Markieff Morris, Ryan Anderson or Kevin Martin?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Kevin Martin. This league is still about offense and he’s a proven offensive commodity that could help a lot of contenders. And there’s no future for him in Minnesota, which has Andrew Wiggins penciled in at the two for the next dozen or so years. 1A) Markieff Morris. Full dumpster fire in Phoenix, and the Suns have to start cleaning things up. Sending the disgruntled Morris (and his very reasonable contract) anywhere else is a necessity for GM Ryan McDonough, who’s now on the hot seat in the Valley of the Sun.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. While Gay and Anderson are best equipped to immediately help a playoff aspirant, while Teague would be much-sought as a point guard around whom a team could organize, while Martin doesn’t fit on a young team in “sell” mode, Morris has the added factor of being actively unhappy where he is. Phoenix has let his situation fester too long already.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. If you’re cleaning house, you might as well sweep into every corner and get rid of all the unhappy pieces.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ryan Anderson. An unrestricted free agent-to-be, on a team that has the chance to make a playoff push to salvage what would ordinarily be a bad season? If the Pelicans were certain Anderson is definitely part of the future, that would be one thing. But this may be the chance to get something for him, and to get something to boost their playoff hopes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll take Markieff Morris, even though the Suns might not have much leverage, since everyone knows Phoenix wants to dump him. I have my doubts about the perceived demand for Rudy Gay, the asking price for Teague could be too steep (ditto for Ryan Anderson) and the best chance Kevin Martin is moved is if he’s a throw-in since he’s well past his prime.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comRyan Anderson has the easiest contract ($8.5 million expiring) to trade, but the Pelicans are still just three games out of eighth place in the loss column. The Suns may have a high asking price for Morris right now, and there’s some risk in trading for a known malcontent with three more years left on his deal. But at some point, Phoenix will have to take what they can get and some other team will be will to take a risk on a versatile forward who’s still just 26 years old.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. You saw him on display in Tuesday night’s loss to Toronto, when he made the most out being inserted into the starting lineup and reminded everyone just how devastating a scoring and rebounding stretch big man he can be. The Suns would be wise to continue to showcase him in the lead up to the trade deadline. And I suspect there are plenty of teams interested in adding a player with his, skill, range and brute force to their mix just in time for the playoffs.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. The Suns have already fired the coach and are looking to the future. Morris is not going to be part of that future. Why make a miserable situation worse by holding onto an unhappy player? They should focus on creating positive energy among their young core. Unloading Morris may also improve their position in the lottery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog I’ll go with Ryan Anderson. He’s got an expiring contract, and he’s on a squad that isn’t going to be a playoff team. Most importantly, though, he’s a power forward who can actually knock down 3-pointers, which is a skill you can’t ever really have enough of. I can think of several teams with postseason aspirations — Atlanta? Dallas? The Clippers? — that could use another outside shooter.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets’ Johnson may pursue buyout | Report: Rest of season may be tryout for Scott | Suns’ Watson vows to ‘nurture’ Morris

No. 1: Johnson won’t ask for trade, may seek buyout — Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson is two seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and stats-wise at his lowest point in terms of scoring average (11.3 points) since 2002-03. But Johnson is also in the final year of the six-year, $119 million deal he inked back in 2010. While his high-scoring days are long gone, Johnson could be a vital pickup for a contender at the trade deadline. As he languishes on one of the East’s worst teams, Johnson told The Record‘s Andy Vasquez he won’t force a trade:

“I’m a professional, man,” Johnson said after practice. “Obviously this late in my career this isn’t the ideal situation. Obviously. But I’m not forcing anything, I haven’t went to management and asked for anything. I come to work day in and day out to compete and have fun, that’s what it’s about. And whatever happens, happens. Obviously this is a tough situation, but we’re all in this together and everybody in this locker room is who we’ve got. So no pointing fingers, we’re just coming out and just competing.”

It wouldn’t be easy for the Nets to trade Johnson’s nearly $25 million expiring contract. But there’s also the possibility of a buyout. Last month, ESPN reported that Johnson isn’t interested. But when asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Johnson left the door open and said he’ll explore the possibilities this week with his agent, Jeff Schwartz.

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Johnson said when asked if he was open to a buyout. “My agent was here last night, and me and him are supposed to sit down and talk within the next week or so. So, I’m sure — whether or not it comes up, I don’t know, but we’ll talk.”

But even if Johnson demanded a trade, or wanted to negotiate a buyout, it’s unclear who would make the decisions on the Nets’ end. The franchise is still looking for a new general manager after Billy King was removed from the job on Jan. 10.

Johnson also reiterated what he told The Record earlier this season: playing for a contender will he his top priority when he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I just want a winning situation,” said Johnson, who added he plans to play two or three more seasons after this one before retiring. “It’s not going to be to no highest bidder or nothing like that, I just want to make sure the situation’s right for me. … the last couple years man I really just want to enjoy it and play on great teams.”

“I’m not saying that’s not possible,” Johnson said of a return to Brooklyn. “We’ll see what happens, I think a lot can happen between now and then.”

It’s been a struggle of a season for Johnson, who is averaging 11.3 points per game (his lowest since 2002-03) and shooting 39.0 percent (which would be the lowest shooting percentage for a season in his career). But he showed flashes of a resurgence in January when he shot 48.5 percent, 47.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 13.5 points.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs air grievances in players-only meeting | Report: Nash passing on full-time coaching for now | Scott defends Russell’s minutes limit

No. 1: Report: Cavs held players-only meeting after Blatt ouster — To date, the players-only meeting has been employed in two NBA cites — Sacramento and Washington — and was done in Cleveland, too, just last week. That’s the word from ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe, who report the meeting was an airing of grievances/accountability session took place shortly after coach David Blatt was fired and that it has been one of the big reasons behind the Cavs’ play of late:

Following a meeting called by general manager David Griffin to inform the team that coach David Blatt had been fired, Cavs players held an extended and spirited players-only meeting, sources told ESPN.com. It turned into an airing of grievances, including stars LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but eventually led to an agreement that has been a basis for the Cavs’ recent strong play.

“It was like ripping off a scab,” one team source said. “And it was exactly what needed to happen. I think it was what [Griffin] was hoping for.”

Said another source: “It was very healthy for the team. It probably needed to happen weeks ago.”

A central issue in the discussion, sources said, was the need for accountability within the team. One of the issues that was keeping the team from enjoying some of the successes of the season was the different set of rules for some players compared to others.

In what could turn out to be a key moment in their tenures together, James, Irving and Love came to an understanding that they needed to police each other on certain matters and use their influence within the team to set a standard for accountability, sources said. That was frequently a missing component over the past season and a half, sometimes creating friction.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin that James, Irving and Love led the conversation, owning up to personal faults and using the open forum to express what they expected out of their teammates.

“It’s the type of conversation that only comes out when it’s time for that conversation, if you know what I mean,” a source said. The discussion got contentious at times, though sources said that it was expected.

Veteran James Jones played a key role in the gathering, both in bringing the players together and encouraging discussion, sources told McMenamin. Jones, whom players call by his nickname, “Champ,” carries significant respect in the locker room.

Griffin asked Jones to organize the meeting. Players were told they were being called together to report to the Cavs’ practice facility on their off day for a team matter. After Griffin addressed the team for 15 minutes and told them Tyronn Lue was being promoted to head coach, the players stayed and discussed matters for around an hour. Lue did not address the team until the following morning at shootaround.

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Analytics Art: Suns fire coach Hornacek, but core issues remain


VIDEO: NBA TV Update on Jeff Hornacek

By Ben Leibowitz, special to NBA.com

Jeff Hornacek began his NBA head coaching tenure with the Phoenix Suns by guiding the team to a completely unanticipated 48-34 record — finishing second in Coach of the Year voting behind Gregg Popovich as a result. Two years later, after Phoenix lost 19 of 21 games and went 0-4 on their latest road trip, Hornacek was relieved of his coaching duties.

From 48-34 to 39-43 to 14-35 (including two losses against the hapless Philadelphia 76ers), the Suns are in an uncontrollable tailspin. Hornacek was made the scapegoat for the team’s failings, but pressing issues go far beyond the man patrolling the sidelines.

So, how did the desert dwellers get here?

Hornacek’s 48-win squad was led by the two-pronged point guard attack of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The pair combined to average 38 points, 11.4 assists, 7.9 rebounds and 3.0 steals. Their leadership, combined with the three-point shooting prowess of Gerald Green and Channing Frye, helmed Phoenix’s ship.

From there, however, personnel decisions orchestrated by general manager Ryan McDonough undermined team chemistry within that foundation.

After the season, McDonough acquired Isaiah Thomas via sign-and-trade to a modest four-year, $28 million contract, teaming him up with Dragic-Bledsoe in a point guard lazy Susan. The idea was to roster three reliable floor generals so the two-headed monster in the backcourt wouldn’t have to take a breather.

The move had unintended consequences.

Dragic told MassLive.com’s Jay King the following of the situation last year:

“It was tough. It’s only one ball, so all the point guards, they need the ball so they can create or do something for the team. It was tough because most of the time I was guarding position 3s, too, so that was not my game. But at the same time, you have to sacrifice for the team. I thought I did that, but unfortunately, at the end, that was not me. I was not happy. That’s why we made that decision (to ask for a trade).”

Phoenix ultimately decided to trade Dragic to the Miami Heat, as the addition of Thomas threw a monkey wrench into an already promising situation.

It seemed the Suns were poised to move forward with a new tandem in Thomas and Bledsoe, but Thomas was also traded in a three-team deal that sent the 5-foot-9 guard to Boston. Phoenix then acquired Brandon Knight from the Milwaukee Bucks in a separate three-teamer in exchange for the Lakers’ top-three protected first-round pick.

Knight was a promising, fringe All-Star with the Bucks, but his brief stint in Phoenix has been marred by injuries thus far — which has prevented him from getting into a steady rhythm.

Knight’s numbers aren’t bad, but his 3-point shooting prowess has regressed since joining the Suns (33.3 percent this year compared to 40.9 percent in 52 games with Milwaukee throughout 2014-15). Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, was named to his first ever All-Star berth this year.

Of course, perhaps the most underrated change occurred when Frye left for the Orlando Magic. As a stretch 5 — a center who can shoot from long range, create necessary spacing for slashing guards and run pick-and-pop sets in the halfcourt — the University of Arizona product held plenty of unsung value. Instead of retaining him (Orlando signed him for four years, $32 million), Phoenix eventually replaced Frye with 33-year-old Tyson Chandler.

The former Defensive Player of the Year was inked to a four-year, $52 million deal — $20 million more than what Orlando paid Frye. Considering Chandler is playing just 23.5 minutes per game and has actually been a net negative on the defensive end, the decision to let Frye walk is tough to justify with hindsight.

Hornacek’s Suns have no doubt played below expectations this year, but past personnel moves and the season-ending knee injury to Bledsoe didn’t help his case. In fact, according to a Twitter poll posed by AZCentral Sports, only 4 percent of voters feel Hornacek deserves the most blame for the Suns’ woes.

These are dark times indeed for the franchise in the Valley of the Sun. It’s fair to assume more changes are coming for an organization in complete disarray.

Ben Leibowitz 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 PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Irrelevant no more: Steady Celtics guard Thomas makes All-Star turn


VIDEO: Relive great moments from Isaiah Thomas’ solid 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

To say Isaiah Thomas has come a long way in his NBA journey would be an understatement. The diminutive floor general, listed at a generous 5-foot-9, was consistently overlooked in the 2011 NBA Draft and wound up being that class’ “Mr. Irrelevant” for being selected with the final pick (No. 60 overall to the Sacramento Kings).

On Thursday, it was announced Thomas was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time in his career. He’ll also be the first player ever to ascend from the last pick in the NBA Draft to All-Star status, according to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

That’s an incredible point of validation for Thomas, who was selected after fellow point guards Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Josh Selby. Those four guys have combined for 1.6 win shares, and Cole is the only one still in the NBA.

As for Thomas? He’s collected 29.2 win shares and counting — more than Klay Thompson and the 2011 Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Lakers bungled four shots at drafting Thomas in the second round of 2011, taking point guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock and forwards Chukwudiebere Maduabum (who they traded to Denver) and Ater Majok. The latter two never suited up in an NBA game, while Morris and Goudelock combined for negative win shares. In short, the Lakers’ passing on Thomas in favor of those unheralded prospects was a complete and utter failure.

Interestingly, scouting reports didn’t even paint Thomas in an aggressively negative light. NBADraft.net pegged Thomas as a “crafty scorer” who possessed “good speed” and “excellent quickness.”

The negatives, as you might expect, focused almost exclusively on being vertically challenged.

“Very small, even for a point guard,” the report reads. “Ability to get inside will be largely negated by the size of NBA players,” was another note followed closely by, “Will struggle to matchup (sic) with NBA guards defensively.”

And, as Matthew Kamalsky wrote for DraftExpress in 2009, “One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor.” He went on to praise the youngster’s “absolutely outstanding first-step” and “excellent speed in transition.”

He also proved to be an assassin in the clutch. While suiting up for the University of Washington, Thomas hit a difficult step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament championship.

He possessed an impressive skill set and didn’t shy away from big moments, which you’d think NBA scouts would value. Somehow, Thomas tumbled down draft boards, but once he arrived in Sacramento, he made an immediate impact … and kept on improving.

Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds while sinking 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. His second season was much like his first and in his third season, he blossomed with averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 72 games (54 starts).

He left Sacramento as a free agent and landed with the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal. In Arizona, his numbers took a dip as he filled a role as the sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a trade deadline-day deal in 2015 Boston gave him a fresh opportunity that he ultimately parlayed into his first All-Star game.

Through 47 games (44 starts), Thomas is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. The Celtics (26-21) are No. 5 in the East thanks in large part to Thomas, who leads Boston with a 28.9 percent usage rate.

Individual and team accomplishments point to Thomas earning a nod. But the Washington product also stacks up quite well when compared to his peers.

Among NBA point guards, Thomas ranks tied for fifth in player efficiency rating behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. All four of those guys are All-Stars as well (sorry, Damian Lillard).

From being passed over 59 times in the 2011 Draft, to being traded by twice to making his first All-Star team, Thomas has had to silence doubters all along the way. For those who believed in him, this moment must be pretty sweet.

Ben Leibowitz 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 PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Remembering Kobe’s epic game | Van Gundy blasts Pistons’ commitment | Aldridge: Picking Spurs over Suns was ‘very close’

No. 1: Remembering Kobe’s 81-point night — It may seem hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi has a great oral history on the game, we have an entire section of this website dedicated to Kobe’s career and the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan, who covered the game that night, provides some great stories from the event, too:

Lawrence Tanter had already witnessed plenty from his courtside view as the Lakers’ public-address announcer.

He was there when the Lakers beat the hated Boston Celtics at the Forum for the 1987 championship. He saw Bryant throw a lob to Shaquille O’Neal in a back-from-the-dead rally in the 2000 playoffs. And he watched the Lakers somehow outlast Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.

For Bryant’s 81-point outburst, though, Tanter remembered the pen-on-paper challenge for official scorer and longtime friend John Radcliffe.

“He was having a very difficult time finding room in the boxes on the scorebook to put all these points down that Kobe was scoring,” Tanter said. “It was a tedious effort on his behalf to do that because he’d never faced anything like that either. He just kept going, ‘Man, I’ve got to write smaller.'”

Suddenly, Luke Walton wasn’t the cool, collected guy with the quick wit and stentorian voice.

Long before he became the successful interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors, he was a reserve Lakers forward. A pass-first player his entire career, he asked for an assist from Bryant after the Toronto game.

“It was one of the few times I felt like a fan instead of his teammate. I had him sign a ticket for me after the game,” Walton said. “It was incredible. You look up at the scoreboard and see it at, like, 72 and then 78 and then all of a sudden it says 80, and it looks like the scoreboard is broken. I really didn’t even fully grasp it until I went home and watched it on tape that night.”

Bill Macdonald was the ebullient host of Lakers’ pregame shows for Fox Sports West.

He was asked to step up a bit that night and took the place of Lakers play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers, who was contractually allowed by the team to call three NFLplayoff games, including the NFC championship on radio that day in Seattle.

Macdonald had experience broadcasting other sports, but nothing like the Lakers. Certainly nothing like that night.

“I figured this was going to be the only Laker game I ever broadcast. It didn’t matter to me that it was a nondescript Sunday in January, a bad Laker team against a not-very-good Toronto team,” Macdonald said. “The first half was just awful. The Lakers were horrible. They needed every single one of Kobe’s points in the second half to come back.”

Phil Jackson, a share-the-ball proponent who won 11 championships in 20 seasons as an NBA coach, including five with the Lakers, was complimentary of Bryant’s effort at the time but noted, “it’s not exactly the way you want to have a team win a game.”

He chuckled this week when that quote was read back to him. He did it again when told Bryant’s score by quarter — 14, 12, 27 and 28. And again when reminded of Bryant’s shot total — almost one per minute.

“That’s exhausting,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty amazing. The kid is unbelievable.”

Toronto swingman Jalen Rose was the one who guarded Bryant the most. Maybe it’s a form of psychological self-defense, but rather than dwell on Bryant’s point total, he remembers Bryant’s demeanor.

“Kobe never bumped his chest. He never pointed in the crowd. He never trash-talked,” said Rose, now an ESPN analyst. “If Kobe had behaved like that, he wouldn’t have got to 51, let alone 81, because we would have wanted to physically harm him on the court.”

“The greatest thing about Kobe’s 81-point game was that actually wasn’t his best game to me. His best game was actually against a good team, the Dallas Mavs, when I think he had like 60 in three quarters.”


VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game

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Blogtable: What’s ailing the Suns?

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


BLOGTABLE: What’s wrong with Phoenix? | Thoughts on a game at Fenway? | Tougher to officiate in MLB or NBA?



VIDEOGameTime’s experts dig in on why Phoenix is struggling

> Things are getting ugly in Phoenix, where the Suns have lost nine in a row and have fallen out of the playoff picture. Who’s to blame here? The owner? The GM? The millennials?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes. It’s a franchise-wide collapse at all levels. Clearly, everyone in Phoenix went all-in after the surprise 48-win season two years ago, but the moves GM Ryan McDonough made — maxing out Eric Bledsoe, extending the Morris twins, trading Goran Dragic for Brandon Knight, signing Tyson Chandler  haven’t worked, and coach Jeff Hornacek hasn’t reached the players that he does have. (Though I get the Chandler move; the Suns were trying to lure LaMarcus Aldridge by having a center in tow, and it almost worked. Almost.) There are still some good players on the roster in Knight, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker, and I still haven’t given up on Alex Len. But until the Suns move Markieff Morris, they can’t move forward.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Owners are responsible in a buck-stops-here way, whether they embrace it or not. But owners gonna own – the stuff we’re talking about with the Suns mostly is on GM Ryan McDonough. It’s his job to both navigate whatever his owner’s peccadilloes might be while overseeing the basketball operation in a much smarter and disciplined way than Phoenix has shown. If you trade a twin and the one left behind squeals as if they’re conjoined, you move the other one — fast. You don’t fire assistant coaches during a season as any sort of solution. You don’t build your team around a cluster of point guards, none of whom brings much coach-on-the-floor authority to the court. Most of all, you don’t squander the built-in advantages the franchise long has enjoyed and the reputation it built as a “destination” market for NBA players.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: That fact that Robert Sarver blamed millennials was, I think, his latest way of saying, “Look at me! I’m your answer.” The owner is rash, impulsive and wants a champagne team on a beer budget. The move to sign Tyson Chandler as a free agent lure for LaMarcus Aldridge was just plain foolish. Now three seasons in, general manager Ryan McDonough’s analytics-driven building plan has done nothing but player checkers with the roster and now leaving coach Jeff Hornacek dangling. Together they’ve turned Phoenix into a, well, desert.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI thought the millennials are to blame for everything. And the media. In this specific situation, though, it’s the millennials, the media, the front office and the players. Jeff Horncek is on the hook as well because any coach should get credit when things go right and blame when things go wrong, but the problems in Phoenix are more about the roster that was put together and some of the players. That means you, Markieff Morris. It’s amazing to think how the world could have been different if the Suns turned out to be more than unexpected contenders for LaMarcus Aldridge.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThere was nobody to blame a few seasons ago when the Suns won 48 games, but nothing good has happened since, especially the moves made by GM Ryan McDonough. He and the Suns loaded up on point guards, took a project center in the lottery, beefed with the Morris Twins, fell out of favor with Goran Dragic, overpaid for an old Tyson Chandler and can’t stop the bleeding now. There’s plenty of season left to get right, but this team seems headed in reverse.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Hindsight doesn’t look too kindly on the moves the Suns have made in the last year. They got only a late first-round pick in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, a terrific offensive player who’s on a very sensible, long-term contract. On the same day, they downgraded from Goran Dragic to Brandon Knight, to whom they had to give a new contract (which pays him about twice as much as Thomas) this past summer. In that same trade, they sent Philadelphia a fantastic asset (the Lakers pick). Then this summer, they gave Tyson Chandler (who’s been a disappointment) a contract that’s going to pay him $13.6 million when he’s 36 years old. All that points at GM Ryan McDonough, but success and failure in this league start at the top and from all accounts, Robert Sarver has had his hands in most or all of the decisions that have been made.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Let’s do the right thing and spread the blame around to all involved. Robert Sarver dumping the Suns’ problems on millennials, and Markieff Morris in particular, is no way to bridge the generational culture gap that exists in Phoenix right now. The fact is the Suns have swung and missed a few times in the Draft and in free agency. No crime there, it happens to the best franchises. It’s how you handle adversity, from the top down, that tells the real story. And the Suns, starting with Sarver, are handling things horribly. There’s no need to vent, publicly, about your team (full of millennials in a league full of millennials, mind you) being spoiled and whiny and unwilling to roll with a program that hasn’t even produced so much as a single trip to the playoffs. And no, cutting a practice short so the team can go bowling, or any other forced team-bonding tricks will fix what ails this team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The coach, GM and owner are always responsible. At the same time, the Suns are going through the inevitable decline that awaits every good team after the great players (Steve Nash et al) are gone. It is – unless you can convince the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to sign on as free agents – the unalterable fact of NBA life that franchises must hit bottom for an extended time before rising up again. It happens everywhere, like a law of gravity, and it makes everyone look bad.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogSuns owner Robert Sarver’s statements about social media made him an easy Twitter target, but that doesn’t mean that he was wrong about the dangers of social media. At the same time, that doesn’t have anything to do with a basketball team. After all, there are a lot of millennials on the Golden State Warriors’ roster (heck, even their interim coach is one) and they seem to be doing just fine. The real problem in Phoenix is that their team just isn’t very good. They doubled-down on a strategy that was more of a novelty than anything, and once they accumulated four point guards they basically were wed to the idea. I like the idea of zagging while everyone else is zigging, but at some point you stray so far from the rest of the group that there’s nowhere else to go.