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Posts Tagged ‘Rudy Gobert’

Blogtable: Your All-Defensive team picks?

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: How long to rest Steph? | Your All-Defensive team picks? |
Most attractive coaching vacancy?



VIDEOKawhi Leonard receives his Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award

> Kawhi Leonard is the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Who should join him on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

Pretty sure that’s who I voted for.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Since I voted for this honor among the NBA’s slate of annual awards, I’m just retyping my ballot here. Leonard, Green and Jordan, in order, were my first, second and third selections for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, too. Leonard is the best on-ball defender in the NBA, Green’s versatility and want-to is unsurpassed and Jordan alters whole game plans. (Just for the record, here’s my second team: Jae Crowder, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

There are several deserving candidates at center, among Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Tim Duncan and others. It’s easy to imagine votes firing out on every direction for center when the actual balloting is released. Bradley may have been the third-best defender this season regardless of position.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

They’re easily the gold standard right now. Leonard is young enough to pull a Jamal Crawford and be a multiple winner of a performance award.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

The forward spots are easy. It’s tempting to put Green at center and replace Gobert with Paul George (watch this guy fight through screens in the Toronto series), Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala, but Green played about 2/3 of his minutes at the four. Gobert missed 21 games, but was the league’s best rim protector. It’s hard to keep Avery Bradley off the list, but Paul and Rubio are two point guards that make a big impact with their ball pressure and ability to stay in front of their man.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

And Hassan Whiteside would be the sixth man on this team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

The theme of this all-defensive team is its phenomenal versatility. All of these players can guard multiple situations. Bradley has taken over for Allen as the NBA’s top backcourt defender.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Well, first of all, my Defensive Player of the Year ballot had Kawhi, Green and Jordan in that order. Because while I appreciate Draymond’s versatility, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a player as aggressive and ravenous as Leonard is when playing on-ball defense. That was my front line. In the back court, I went with Paul, who plays at such a consistently high level play after play, game after game, and I went with Allen, because I didn’t want him getting mad at me on Twitter like last year.

Numbers notes: Close games have kept Grizzlies afloat


VIDEO: Antetokounmpo’s 15 points and 11 assists lead the Bucks over Memphis on Thursday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies are having a weird season. Right now, they’re just trying to survive with Marc Gasol out for the season and a plethora of other injuries. Seven other Grizzlies missed Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee and only three guys — JaMychal Green, Ryan Hollins and Jarell Martin — have played all 10 games in March. Hollins was signed in January and Martin had played in four games prior to this month.

On Monday, with eight guys out, the Grizzlies lost by 49 points in Houston. It was the second time this season that they’ve lost by at least that many points, having lost 119-69 at Golden State in their fourth game of the season.

The Grizzlies are 2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more and have been outscored by 112 points this season, the ninth best mark in the Western Conference. Yet, they’re 39-30 and in fifth place, despite a four-game losing streak.

Only the Warriors (24-1) and Spurs (15-6) have been better in games that were within five points in the last five minutes than the Grizzlies, who are 25-12 in those games. Memphis has both a top-five offense and a top-five defense in clutch situations.

The Western Conference point differential standings would have the Spurs as the top seed in the West and the Jazz as the five seed, with the Grizzlies in the Lottery. In the East, the Pistons would be in and the Bulls would be out.

With all their injuries, the Grizzlies are seemingly sinking in the real standings, and they have the toughest remaining schedule among teams currently seeded 5-9 in the West. But they still have a four-game lead for fifth place, because the teams behind them haven’t posed much of a threat to move up. The sixth-place Blazers have lost six of their last eight games, struggling against a tough schedule. The seventh-place Rockets are 9-12 since late January and the eighth-place Mavs have lost six of their last seven.

Defensive discrepancy in and out of Utah

The ninth-place Jazz have won four straight after a 3-10 stretch and are just a game behind the Rockets and Mavs. But the Jazz play their next five games on the road, where they haven’t defended nearly as well they have at home. In fact, no team has a bigger home-road differential in defensive efficiency than Utah.

20160318_defrtg_home-road

Even since they got Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back from injuries, the Jazz have struggled to get stops away from home. They’ve allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions over the 11 road games since Favors returned in late January.

After trading Enes Kanter and promoting Gobert to starting center, the Jazz were the league’s best defensive team, by a wide margin, after the All-Star break last season. They’ve been a good defensive team this year, but haven’t been able to replicate last year’s late-season success.

Utah’s five-game trip begins Saturday in Chicago and includes two games against top-10 offenses, including a critical game in Houston next Wednesday.

The Jazz, though, do have a much easier remaining schedule than the Mavs, who look like the pick to miss the playoffs.

20160318_west_sos

Backing their way in

The Grizzlies’ season-long mark of minus-112 wouldn’t be close to being the worst plus-minus for a playoff team. Last year’s Nets (minus-236) claimed eighth place in the East by winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Indiana, who had a positive plus-minus (plus-23) for the season.

The Nets’ mark was the worst raw point differential for a playoff team since the 1991-92 Miami Heat (minus-345). That Heat team (38-44) is one of two since the 1970-71 season that won 10 more games than their point differential said they should. They made the playoffs with a point differential of a 28-54 team.

The 1985-86 Clippers also had a 10-game differential between their actual wins (32) and “expected” wins (22), a mark that could be eclipsed by this year’s Grizzlies with another loss by 40-plus. And with four more games against the Spurs and Warriors, that’s a real possibility.

Blogtable: Are Jazz playoff-bound?

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 Knicks? | Jazz playoff-bound? |
Will LaVine or Curry repeat on All-Star Saturday?



VIDEOHayward powers Jazz to 7th straight win

> With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors back in the lineup, the Jazz are starting to pile up some wins. Is Utah’s four-year playoff drought about to end?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: As Jeff Weigand said in “The Insider,” most certainly. And I’ll go you one better; I think Utah has a decent shot at getting home court in the first round now, with the injuries to the Clippers (Blake Griffin, Austin Rivers) and Memphis (Marc Gasol). The Jazz have a chance to be real good for a good long while.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Utah is good enough to qualify for the playoffs. It all just comes down to the math of nine teams vying for eight spots (with maybe Denver the best of the rest in potentially climbing up). I say yes, the Jazz get in, because part of bouncing back from injuries is getting adjusted again to the roster’s full personnel – though seven in a row suggests a quick re-orientation. Utah ranks high enough both offensively and defensively to justify its spot among the West’s top eight and I think that holds for the next two months.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It will be a good race for the No. 8 spot with the Trail Blazers, but I’ll give the nod to Utah. The Jazz played strong from the All-Star break to the end of last season and now that they’re healthy again are looking like that rising young team again.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I can’t give a solid “yes” because the entire group going for the final spot is built on sand, but you’d have to like the Jazz’s chances. I had Quin Snyder among the contenders for Coach of the Year in my preseason predictions that never, ever go wrong. Watch him start to pick up votes if Utah stays in the postseason mix after all the injuries.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It should end, and I think it will. They really missed Gobert. That doesn’t mean the Jazz are ideally built or that Utah is ready to pull a first-round surprise, though. I’m still not sold on Utah having a potential superstar among the batch of young players on the team, and you can’t routinely win 50-plus games a year without one (or two). This summer, I’d seriously think about trading Gordon Hayward for the right price.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Yes. The Jazz are 14-7 with both Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert and have a top-three defense since Favors returned from his back injury eight games ago. They look like the team that went 19-10 after the All-Star break last season. Their offense is still going to have some droughts, but Rodney Hood is evolving into a really good player and they can finish a few games over .500 with how well they defend. The Jazz also have an easier remaining schedule than Houston or Portland, and Marc Gasol‘s injury creates some doubt that the Grizzlies (whose schedule gets really tough after the first week in March) can hold on to their spot.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s still a little early for me to be certain that the playoff drought ends for the Jazz this season. There are still things that have to be sorted out by the teams chasing that 8th and final spot. That said, the Jazz certainly have the look of a team ready to give serious chase. Favors and Gobert give them a 1-2 big man punch that could be very valuable down the stretch of this season. They need better point guard play, of course. And maybe they’ll be active at the trade deadline next week and address that issue. But either way, they’re going to be in mix for that playoff spot.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Blazers, who are the other young team racing for the No. 8 spot, are in their first season together after rebuilding on the fly last summer. The Jazz have been investing in this young core for several years, and that teamwork and cohesion should help as the games become more important – even though Utah must play 17 of its those remaining 31 games on the road.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I know they’re hovering around the No. 8 seed right now, but I don’t think that’s going to continue. To me, Portland has more veteran leadership and is probably better suited to a postseason run. If Dante Exum hadn’t gone down, they might be more firmly in the postseason mix. That said, if they can find an upgrade at point guard at the trade deadline, they might be back in the race.

Jazz primed to surge behind Gobert


VIDEO: Rudy Gobert talks after his first start following his injury

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Rudy Gobert is back on the court for the Utah Jazz, and for a team with playoff aspirations, his return is a godsend.

After a Grade 2 MCL sprain in Gobert’s left knee sidelined him for 18 games, he made his return on Jan. 7 – a 103-94 loss to the Houston Rockets in which he played 15 minutes. In two games since (both wins), Gobert averaged 9.5 points, 5.0 and 3.5 blocks in 58 total minutes.

All told, the Jazz are 7-13 when “The Stifle Tower” doesn’t play and 10-7 when he does. He’s a huge part of Utah’s identity, particularly on defense.

Utah’s opponents are scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions this season when Gobert is on the bench. But when he’s patrolling the paint, that mark dips to 103 points per 100 possessions.

Although he doesn’t qualify for the leaderboard due to time missed, Gobert ranks second in the league among all players with 2.6 blocks per game – behind only the Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside.

Gobert uses his 7-foot-1 frame, lengthy wingspan and 9-foot-7 standing reach to not only to block shots, but also to alter many high-percentage shots close to the rim. According to NBA.com, Gobert holds opponents to an unfathomably low 37 percent shooting at the rim. That mark is significantly more impressive than those of defensive-minded big men like Andrew Bogut (41.6 percent), Anthony Davis (43.5 percent) and DeAndre Jordan (45.3 percent).

And yet, oddly enough, Gobert has had an even greater influence offense.

Utah scores nearly seven additional points per 100 possessions when Gobert is in the lineup, a striking stat considering his limited offensive skills (virtually all of Gobert’s shot attempts come from within the restricted area).

To be fair, backup Jeff Withey performed admirably in Gobert’s absence. Even in the midst of Gobert’s return, Withey is averaging 8.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks through six January games. But Gobert finished fifth in Kia Defensive Player of the Year voting last season despite starting only 37 games. He remains the best defensive option for Utah when healthy.

If that “when healthy” qualifier proves inconsequential the rest of the season, Utah should end its three season-long (and counting) playoff absence.

Following his return, Gobert said, “I jumped higher than I was jumping before the injury. I feel great,” per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News.

After weathering the storm brought on by Gobert’s absence, Utah is in position to get hot heading into the All-Star break.

Note: All stats used in this article are accurate as of Jan. 11, prior to games played.

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 Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 2


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Walton was right for Warriors job | Does robbery make Knicks tougher sell? | Porzingis taking safer route as rookie | Is Jabari Parker taking a step back?

No. 1: Walton was right for Warriors’ job — When Steve Kerr developed complications from back surgery and had to take an indefinite leave of absence, folks rightly wondered if the Warriors had a decent replacement. Remember, Alvin Gentry bolted months earlier for the Pelicans job and the Warriors didn’t hire an experienced replacement to lend an ear to Kerr. Luke Walton, who didn’t bring much seasoning, took over and the Warriors haven’t looked back. With Kerr bracing for a return, possibly this weekend, Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group writes what we all now know: Walton was a good choice …

With Walton guiding them as the interim head coach, the defending NBA champion Warriors have gone on a dream ride and steamrolled the competition on their way to the best start in league history at 30-2. As Walton appears to be winding down his stint, his success should not have come as a complete surprise.

Kerr, who could soon return from his leave of absence after a spinal fluid leak sidelined him, trusted the 35-year-old caretaker of the team to strike a familiar tone that balances competitiveness with calm.

“When he delivers a message, he’s comfortable,” Kerr said. “He’s really made for it. Nothing rattles him.”

Walton did have his sense of security shaken off the court during the Warriors’ undefeated November. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle that his wife, Bre, drives was allegedly stolen from their home and crashed. Even for the 20-year-old man arrested on felony charges of first-degree residential burglary and unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle, Walton offered compassion.

“I feel bad for the kid,” said Walton, who grew up in an area of San Diego where the front door was rarely locked. “I mean, seriously, you’ve got a 20-year-old kid. What’s going on in his life that that’s what it’s coming to at the age of 20 years old?

When Walton was 20, he was a 6-foot-8, curly-haired redshirt freshman point forward at the University of Arizona. He was just starting a playing career molded by the Hall of Fame voices that are still in his head today as a coach on a meteoric rise.

Walton’s free-spirited father, Hall of Fame player Bill Walton, considered Arizona coach Lute Olson to be the modern-day version of UCLA’s John Wooden, whose sayings (“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”) were scrawled onto Luke’s lunch bags as a child.

“He was a master at the fundamentals of the game and paying attention to the smallest details in practice, and I — probably from him — am a huge believer in those things,” Luke Walton said of Olson.

“Whether it’s footwork or it’s the way we’re defending a screen-and-roll, the positioning of our screens, those type of things I’m naturally always looking for from the sideline.”

Walton led all frontcourt players in the country in assists as a junior in the Wildcats’ up-tempo offense. He flourished as a cerebral and outspoken player who could read defenses and direct his teammates to the right places on the floor. He could command a huddle, according to point guard Jason Gardner, who with Walton served as senior captains.

***

No. 2: Does robbery make Knicks a tougher sell? — When Cleanthony Early was robbed at gunpoint outside a Queens’ club in the wee morning hours a few days ago, it shed more light on the potential dangers of athletes being in nightclubs because their wealth and celebrity can make them targets. Because this happened in New York, where everything is magnified, it wasn’t a surprise when a New York writer wondered aloud if the Big Apple could be off-limits to some free agents who don’t like big city living. Frank Isola of the Daily News took it a step further and weighed whether the Early robbery was a red flag for those free agents:

In the span of eight months, Chris Copeland was stabbed outside a Manhattan nightclub; another NBA player, Thabo Sefolosha, had his leg broken by a New York policeman; Derrick Williams was allegedly robbed by two women he invited into his apartment, and our newest victim, Cleanthony Early, was robbed and shot outside a strip club in Queens.

This all occurred within a 10-mile radius of the NBA league office and Madison Square Garden, two institutions damaged the most by a string of crimes in which the victims are mostly guilty of poor judgment.

That was certainly true of Early, a 24-year-old second-year role player who was fortunate not to lose his life in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday in Queens. His career, however, could be in jeopardy.

Early becomes the latest example of the old adage that nothing good happens after midnight. The same can be said of his Knicks teammate, Williams, who was allegedly robbed of nearly $700,000 in jewelry by two women 10 days earlier.

Early’s case is much more horrifying and evil. It was around 4 a.m. Wednesday when Early was robbed at gunpoint and shot in his right knee for good measure.

Really, what more can the NBA do than just hope its players will avoid trouble and exercise good old common sense. Some of the league’s bigger stars are accompanied by security guards when they venture into public places, including nightclubs.

But security detail and curfews won’t prevent NBA players from entering clubs and enjoying the spoils of being rich, young and famous. Besides being famous, Williams and Early are no different than some hot shot young attorney or hedge fund guys with plenty of disposable income. The motto is simple: have money, will party.

“We all are targets at the end of the day,” Carmelo said on Wednesday. “Regardless of how much love people will show you and whether you feel comfortable being in this place or that place, it will always be that one person who thinks differently, who feels you shouldn’t be in the position that you’re in, that you shouldn’t be as blessed as you are.

“So it will always be the 99 people who are bigging you up and then the one person over here who is trying to take you down.”

***

No. 3: Porzingis takes the safe route as a rookie — Of course, New York can be a very safe place if you take precaution. That’s what a certain Knicks rookie has chosen. Maybe it’s because he’s 7-foot-3 and easy to spot, and because he’s already a celebrity, and because he makes millions. But Kristaps Porzingis, only 20, has not only stayed away from certain hot spots in New York, he has “security” in the form of his parents. Here’s Mark Berman of the New York Post with more:

If any Knick is a good bet to stay out of trouble, it is Porzingis, who often has said he is in New York City only for the games.

Porzingis, who claims to not drink, is living in a cocoon in White Plains with his parents from Latvia and his two brothers.

“It’s always good to have support around as young as I am and New York with a lot of attention,’’ Porzingis said at the United Center on Friday. “My family’s around to make sure I’m doing the right thing and staying out of trouble and focused on basketball. For me, it’s great to have family around.’’

The Knicks are reeling from two ugly incidents in a space of 11 days that prompted GM Steve Mills to give a talk to the players before they flew to Chicago for New Year’s Eve. The Knicks face the Bulls on Friday night.

Knicks forward Derrick Williams allegedly got robbed of $750,000 worth of jewelry two weeks ago by two women he met at a club and took back to his apartment in the wee hours.

On Wednesday at about 4:15 a.m., Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was robbed and shot in the right knee after leaving a Queens strip joint and being held up by at least six bandits.

“It’s sad that things like that happen,’’ said Porzingis, the first Knick to tweet a sympathetic message to Early on Wednesday morning. “It shows how careful you have to be in those situations.’’

Although the drinking age in Latvia is 18, Porzingis says he does not drink at all. And as far as going out to a nightclub, Porzingis said, “I’m 20 years old.’’

***

No. 4: Is Jabari Parker taking a step backward? — He was widely considered by scouts to be the most NBA-ready player taken in the draft a few years ago. Then Jabari Parker got hurt less than two months into his rookie season and missed almost a year following knee surgery. He has made a triumphant return this season and shows flashes of being the player the Bucks projected when he left Duke. But he hasn’t put it all together just yet. Does Parker deserve the benefit of time, or does his sporadic struggles mean he’s in for an inconsistent season? Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel takes a look:

The 6-foot-8 forward firmly believes he will break out of it soon.

“I know what skills I have,” Parker said. “I’m just playing my role. It’s there. It’s always been there.”

Parker was 2 of 11 from the field and scored five points in the Bucks’ 131-123 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night and was 2 of 7 with six points in a 103-93 loss at Dallas to begin the Bucks’ four-game trip Monday night.

He played just 18 minutes in each game.

In the past six games he has connected on just 22 of 60 shots (36.7%), and that includes an 8 of 10 performance against the Philadelphia 76ers last week.

Parker tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last December and missed the final 57 games of his rookie season after undergoing surgery. He worked hard throughout the summer and returned to action Nov. 4 against Philadelphia, in the fifth game of the season.

He has showed explosiveness at the rim and finished some spectacular dunks, but he has struggled with his medium-range jumper while shooting 45.7% from the field. Parker is averaging 10.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 27 games, including 23 starts.

“He has had some very good games,” Prunty said. “He’s been very helpful and he’s important to what we do. Obviously there are games where he’s going through a learning curve.

“I think people tend to look at offensive statistics, but we’re always trying to grow on both sides of the ball. So defensively and offensively he’s made great strides. We like where he is. But like all our players, we’re trying to get better every single day.”

Donovan said Parker — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft — would not necessarily remain a power forward as he continues his NBA journey.

“Seeing him in high school, I don’t think people realize this,” Donovan said. “He played the center spot; he played the point guard spot.

But he admitted the last few weeks have been rough, not only for him but the team, as it has dropped nine games below the .500 level. He said it’s a matter of confidence with his jump shot right now.

“We’re losing; everyone is always disappointed,” he said. “I have to stay positive, do what I can control, just play hard.

“I still believe in my team, regardless of anything. I still believe in us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stats really don’t tell how good a season LeBron James is having … Marcus Morris of the Pistons, twin brother of recently suspended Markieff Morris, gives his thoughts about the SunsRudy Gobert is angling for a recovery and return for Utah … The Nuggets could use a breather for some of their workhorse players Dwyane Wade is going strong to the rim again.

Jazz lose Gobert to sprained MCL

The big front line of the Jazz will be cut down a bit for the foreseeable future with Rudy Gobert suffering a Grade II sprained of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

According to a release from the club, no surgery is required and the 7-1 center will be sidelined indefinitely.

Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune got a reaction from Jazz forward Derrick Favors:

“It’s a big blow to us for sure, but we have to step up,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors told The Salt Lake Tribune Thursday evening. “We have to find a way to play well without him and hold it down until Rudy returns.”

The injury probably means that Favors will slide into his center spot and coach Quin Snyder is likely to insert Trevor Booker or rookie Trey Lyles into the starting lineup.

Gobert is averaging 9.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shot in his third NBA season. He missed two earlier games with a sprained ankle and the Jazz (8-8) lost them both to the Heat and Magic.

Young Jazz still trying to turn corner


VIDEO: Derrick Favors powers Jazz to close road win in Atlanta

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Moral victories will sustain you for only so long in the NBA.

Sooner or later, signs of growth and glimpses of what could be have to backed up with something much more substantial than just the hope of what’s to come.

The Utah Jazz are living that reality these days. They are a team loaded with intriguing young talent, a group still trying to find its way together as they chart a course from the lottery to the playoffs while still working to shore up deficiencies on the roster and in their make up.

They shocked us with their work to finish the 2014-15 season, going 15-9 during the stretch run after the All-Star break, suggesting that this season might bring a true breakout effort from coach Quin Snyder‘s crew with a nucleus of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and defensive menace Rudy Gobert anchoring the middle of an improved frontline.

But the road has been a bit tougher than expected early on this season, courtesy of a rugged early schedule and the offseason loss of point guard Dante Exum for the season with a torn ACL.

That’s what makes nights like Sunday, when they outlasted the Atlanta Hawks 97-96 at Philips Arena to finally score a road win after three straight losses on a four-game trip, so sweet.

All that potential in action, and with a result to match. It’s all you can ask for when you’re trying to turn a corner. The Jazz sit at 5-5 after their first 10 games with every intention of living up to their own hype.

“I feel like we are ahead of where we were last year,” Hayward said. “We’re in a good place. I know that’s seems like a strange thing to say after you lose three in a row. But two close games and then kind of drained on that last one. But we are moving in the right direction. We just have more experience, another year with [Snyder] and all of the experiences from the tough games we played last year. We’re learning how to win games and trying to figure out where you can succeed in this league.”

Learning how to win games like this one will only help the Jazz in their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sunday’s win over the Hawks was their first this season in games decided by five points or less (they were 0-3 previously).

They shot a season-high 51 percent (39-for-76), outrebounded the Hawks by seven and Favors, an Atlanta native, led five players in double figures. Gobert recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with his three assists, three blocks and two steals as the Jazz finally put together a complete game against an elite opponent.

A little good fortune never hurts, of course. All-Star forward Paul Millsap missed a wide-open 12-footer in the game’s final seconds that would have won the game for the Hawks.

The hard work to get to that point, though, was rooted in the preparation for moments exactly like this one, Favors insists. And that preparation has been years in the making for the most experienced members of this Jazz team, where a 24-year-old, six-year veteran like Favors qualifies as an elder statesman.

“Everybody is more comfortable with the roles and guys are going out there playing with more freedom, without looking over their shoulder every time they make a mistake and worrying about the coach taking you out and crazy stuff like that,” Favors said. “It’s experience, too. This is my sixth year. Gordon’s been here six years. Most everybody else is in their second or third year. There is so much you have to learn. We’ve been through it as individuals. But now we have to go through some things together, as a group. And that’s what makes you stronger.”

This Jazz team still has glaring issues, of course, namely its struggles at point guard. Raul Neto is the starter and Trey Burke, a prized lottery pick two years ago, is the backup and playing well in that role.

But with the game on the line in the final four minutes Sunday, the Jazz worked without either one of them on the floor. It’s a formula they have been using all season, going with Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Hayward as the primary facilitators with games on the line.

It’s a dangerous way to play in a league where quality point guard play has never been more valuable. And when you’re a team attempting to make the leap from the lottery to the playoffs, it’s a potentially fatal flaw.

The Hawks played without their All-Star point guard Sunday night, Jeff Teague, who sat out with a sprained ankle. And they lost starting small forward and energy man Kent Bazemore when he turned his ankle with 2:20 to play.

But there’s no need to apologize for a little luck, not when every bit of it and every lesson learned along the way will be useful on this journey.

“It was very important. We were very close to winning the first two games of the road trip. We lost each game by a couple of possessions,” Gobert said of what the Jazz took away from these early lumps they’ve endured. “But we were able to win the game tonight. We want to make the playoffs, so we need to put some wins together.”

Playoff talk in November is just that, talk. And no amount of bluster, internal or otherwise, will fuel the Jazz the rest of the way.

“We know it was a trendy thing to talk about us expecting to be a playoff team and a team on the rise or this and that,” Favors said. “But I don’t think you can own any of that until you actually get there. So anybody talking about us turning a corner … we haven’t turned a corner until we make the playoffs.”

Numbers notes: Cavaliers and Warriors among most improved


VIDEO: Curry’s big night vs. the Clippers

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

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

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

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

Most improved offenses

20151106_impr_offrtg

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

Most improved defenses

20151106_impr_defrtg

Most improved shooters

20151106_impr_efg

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

Morning shootaround — Oct. 25


VIDEO: The Starters predict who’ll will the 2015-16 Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Luke Walton not intimidated by coaching in Warriors opener | Monta Ellis looks for big season with Pacers | Derrick Rose loves Fred Hoiberg’s system already | Hassan Whiteside could be the difference for Miami this season

No. 1: Luke Walton not intimidated by coaching in Warriors opener — Just four months ago Luke Walton was the third man on the bench of the soon-to-be world champion Warriors, next to Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry. But Gentry left to become coach of the Pelicans and Kerr has missed most of training camp with complications following back surgery. And now Walton will steer the Warriors at least temporarily until Kerr recovers, and there’s no timetable for that. Warriors GM Bob Myers made it official on Saturday. Here’s Ron Kroichick of the Chronicle with the details:

Kerr’s absence vaults Walton, 35, into a head-coaching role only 2½ years after his playing career ended. He spent one season as an assistant coach in the NBA Development League and last season, essentially, as the No. 3 assistant with the Warriors (behind Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams). Walton did lead the team in the summer league and throughout the preseason, but he realizes the intensity will rise into another realm Tuesday night.

His biggest challenge could involve substitutions. Kerr proved adept at this in his inaugural season at the helm, helping Andre Iguodala thrive as the sixth man and finding sufficient playing time for Marreese Speights and Shaun Livingston, among others.

“Managing minutes and lineups will probably be the trickiest thing, because we have such a deep team,” Walton said. “A lot of times it’s a crap shoot, as far as who we’re going with. Is it Mo? Is it Festus (Ezeli)? How long are we playing Andre and Shaun? …

“So we have to be ready to make moves quickly. I’m confident we’ll be able to do all that stuff.”

Walton, son of Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, played on two NBA title teams with the Lakers in 2009 and ’10. That earned him instant credibility with Warriors players, to hear Myers tell it.

Also notable: Walton is barely older than the players he will lead into the season (he’s only four years older than Iguodala, for example). He clearly established a rapport with them as an assistant, though the dynamic could change as he makes the decisions in a game.

“I think the players respect Luke,” Myers said. “He’s real, he’s authentic. … He’s one of the smartest basketball minds we have in the organization. He grew up around the NBA, so he’s not intimidated by the NBA.”

The timing of Saturday’s news was interesting. Not only did Kerr attend practice, he was more involved than he had been since the Warriors announced on Oct. 1 that he was taking a leave of absence. Walton said Kerr even installed some new plays at the end of practice.

They will work in concert, even with Kerr steering clear of the bench. He’s expected to attend Tuesday night’s pregame ceremony, in which Warriors players and coaches will receive their championship rings. Myers said it’s unclear whether Kerr will remain in the arena for the game; if he does, he will stay in the background.

***

No. 2: Monta Ellis looks for big season with Pacers — There’s no looking back for Monta Ellis, now with his third team in four years, unless it’s involving his childhood growing up in Mississippi. Ellis is anxious to put his mark on the Pacers and help that franchise back to the playoffs, but he and his family took time to reflect on the hard journey he took from childhood to the NBA. Candace Buckner of the Indy Star-News has a terrific profile of Ellis, one of the best players in the NBA who has never made the All-Star team:

The walls didn’t come down in California, where Ellis was the shoot-first thorn stubbornly pricked into Don Nelson’s side.

These days, Nelson has retired to the shores of Hawaii, where he is unplugged from the NBA transactions wire and unburdened by old beefs with former players. Still, his bouts with Ellis are well known. Nelson inherited Ellis in his second year in the league and coached him until the 2009-10 season.

“Well, the first thing that pops into my head is that he’s …” Nelson starts, and you’re expecting to hear a sort of basketball pejorative: selfish scorer, one-dimensional ball hog. And yet, Nelson makes a surprising declaration.

“…a terrific player,” he finishes.

Then comes the verbal asterisk: “Right now.”

“He was hard to coach when he was young; there’s no question in my mind about that,” Nelson continues. “He was very difficult to coach early. Like I said, single-minded. He thought he could do everything, like a lot of young players.”

***

No. 3: Derrick Rose loves Hoiberg’s system alreadyDerrick Rose has had a painful preseason, as you know, suffering an eye injury and then dealing with double vision. He finally saw action in his first exhibition game and declares himself fit for the opener. He’s also a big fan of new coach Fred Hoiberg and especially Hoiberg’s offense. As you might remember, offense was always a sticky point under the previous regime. Here’s Sam Smith of Bulls.com with the details:

 Rose knows well the vagaries of the game.

“I felt good,” Rose said. “I just wanted to come out, get a feel for the offense. I loved the way coach designed everything, the way the offense is run. They’ve got me running down hill every time I catch the ball and I’m catching the ball with a live dribble.

“He asked me to play yesterday,” said Rose of Hoiberg. “For him to ask me it must mean he loved the way I was playing in practice. With this offense it’s a lot of openings and gaps. With the way we shoot the ball and the freedom we have to shoot the ball, it’s like you can’t help off anyone; if someone has it going we’re to keep feeding them. We’re going to play off matchups. We’ve got to do that a little bit more and get people the ball a little more, like when Jimmy (Butler) had a couple of post ups when he had (J.J.) Barea on him a couple of times and we missed him. That’s all about reading the game and reading who is out there, giving the ball to the right person.

“There are a lot more (driving) lanes,” enthused Rose. “It’s so many opportunities to drive or so many opportunities to shoot my mid range even in transition; it’s open. I’ve just got to get used to playing this way. I know that might sound crazy, but playing in a (deliberate) system for three or four years kind of got me out of my rhythm.

“Whenever I see lanes I’m driving,” said Rose. “As soon as I step up, I’m hitting whoever is open and just trying to play basketball. I love the way the offense is. Coming down we’re not thinking about what we are running. Coming down, start with a pick and roll and then that pick and roll opens up everything else.

“I thought I was just going to come out and facilitate the game,” said Rose. “But I saw openings and I got all the way to the basket. So I can take this and put it in the bank. It’s very encouraging. It’s scary for my confidence right now. The last thing I need is any more confidence.

I’m going to take this and run with it.”

***

No. 4: Hassan Whiteside could be the difference for Miami this season —  There’s a swell of enthusiasm not seen in Miami since, well, since LeBron James left town, and that’s because the Heat are revamped and, they hope, finally free of the injury bug that hampered them last season. They’re also counting big on center Hassan Whiteside, who was a surprise revelation last season and now must prove that his min-breakout season wasn’t a fluke. Here’s Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald with the latest:

If he expands on what he did in just less than 24 minutes a game last season, the Heat could zoom right back into title contention after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

If he just does what he did last year — averaging a double-double and defending the paint at an elite level — he’s still headed toward a monster payday (anywhere from $12 million to $18 million per season).

And if he goes backwards, it’s only going to make what is shaping up to be another interesting summer (when Durant hits the free agent market) only that more interesting.

The Heat, who has only $48 million and four players (Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and rookie Justise Winslow) on the books for next season, could build its future around Whiteside. Or, it could go in an entirely different direction.

For now, though, there are at least 82 games to go through. The ride for Miami’s new starting five — finally whole again with Bosh back from the blood clots in his lungs and point guard Goran Dragic directing what should be a faster pace on offense — begins Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Charlotte Hornets.

Most pundits are picking Miami to finish anywhere from second in the East behind James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to fifth or sixth behind younger teams like Washington and Atlanta or the veteran-laden Chicago Bulls.

Coach Erik Spoelstra, though, isn’t pinning the Heat’s hopes on one player. “You can’t just point it to one guy,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a five-man game. Hassan’s not going out there in UFC by himself or playing tennis. We have to build cohesiveness, and that takes some time to develop that trust.

“What Hassan gives you is a presence in the paint on both sides of the court. He’s bigger and stronger than most people you play against. Defensively we hope he can be one of our anchors near the rim and someone who can put a lot of pressure on the rim offensively.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Last year the starting point guard on opening night for the Sixers was Michael Carter-Williams. Now, it’s Isaiah Canaan … Cleveland GM David Griffin is already signing the praises of newly-extended Tristan ThompsonRudy Gobert isn’t sweating a so-so-preseason start … The Raptors might be concerned about Patrick Patterson‘s struggles; he was supposed to have a major role with the club this season … The new Michael Jordan store in Chicago has folks standing in line already

One Team, One Stat: A New Defense in Utah


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Utah Jazz

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Utah Jazz, who were a brand new team after the All-Star break.

The stat

20151018_uta_improvement

The context

20151018_uta_basicsAt 19-34, the Jazz were about even with the Kings before the break. At 19-10, they were about even with the Rockets after it.

The Jazz actually regressed offensively after the break, with an increase in turnovers being their biggest issue. But after ranking 27th in defensive efficiency before the break, they ranked first, by a wide margin, after it.

After All-Star, the difference between the No. 1 Jazz and the No. 2 Milwaukee Bucks (99.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) was greater than the difference between the Bucks and the 18th-ranked New Orleans Pelicans (102.8).

20151018_uta_before-after

The impetus for the improvement was one of the best examples of an addition-by-subtraction trade that we’ve seen in a long time. The Jazz didn’t receive any useful players in a three-team, deadline trade with Detroit and Oklahoma City. But they rid themselves of Enes Kanter, one of the league’s worst defenders.

The Jazz allowed 108 points per 100 possessions with Kanter on the floor before he was traded. For the season, opponents scored 111 points per 100 possessions when Kanter defended a pick-and-roll, according to SportVU. That was the worst mark among starting centers.

After the trade, Kanter was replaced in the Utah starting lineup by Rudy Gobert, the league’s best rim protector. Opponents shot 40.4 percent at the rim when Gobert was there to defend it, according to SportVU. That was the best mark among 100 players who defended at least four shots at the rim per game over 40 games.

Not only did the Jazz protect the rim better after the break, they defended the 3-point line better, rebounded better, and forced more turnovers.

20151018_uta_defense

The question now is how well the Jazz can sustain their post-break success over 82 games. If they’re the team this year that they were after the break last season, the Western Conference is even better than we thought.

Utah will miss the length of Dante Exum (out for the season with a torn ACL) on the perimeter. The defense was much better with Exum on the floor than with Trey Burke on the floor last season.

But Gobert will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and if the last two months of last season weren’t a fluke, the Jazz will be competing for a playoff spot in the West.

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


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