Posts Tagged ‘Shaun Livingston’

Kidd has come a long way in a few months


VIDEO: Jason Kidd talks with Rachel Nichols about his growth process as an NBA coach

BROOKLYN – Jason Kidd‘s coaching career began a little like his playing career ended.

As a player, he missed his last 18 shots. As a coach, he lost 21 of his first 31 games with the most expensive roster in NBA history. He was fined $50,000 for purposely spilling a drink so that his assistant coach could draw up a play. Through December, the Brooklyn Nets were below-average on both ends of the floor and were particularly brutal defensively.

Early in November, ESPN.com’s David Thorpe called Kidd “the worst coach in the NBA.” Later that month, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck quoted an scout who didn’t think much of Kidd, the coach.

A veteran scout, interviewed earlier in the day and speaking on the condition of anonymity, called Kidd’s bench comportment “terrible,” observing that the play-calling has fallen mostly to his top assistants, Lawrence Frank and John Welch.

“He doesn’t do anything,” said the scout, who has watched the Nets several times. “He doesn’t make calls. John Welch does all the offense. Lawrence does all the defense. … I don’t know what Kidd does. I don’t think you can grade him and say he’s bad. You can give him an incomplete.”

Things have changed quite a bit. The Nets are 27-12 (best in the Eastern Conference) since the new year began, with a top-10 defense, despite a two-game slide this week.

The turnaround coincided with a seemingly sudden lineup change that created a new defensive identity. The Nets went from a bad team on Dec. 31 (when they were thumped by the San Antonio Spurs) to a good one two nights later (when they won in Oklahoma City).

But the players will tell you that they just needed time to get healthy and get to know one another. Deron Williams missed 11 of the team’s first 20 games, Andrei Kirilenko missed 26 of the first 30, and Brook Lopez missed nine of the first 24 before being lost for the season on Dec. 20. The Nets’ projected $82 million starting lineup played a total of 90 minutes together.

So, yeah, they needed some time to hit their stride. So did Kidd.

During the Nets’ episode of Real Training Camp in October, Kidd  was barely heard from. He was mostly on the sidelines as his assistants — like Lawrence Frank here – ran practice.

Kidd should have known when he hired Frank that he would look to take charge. That’s who Frank is. And Kidd, in hindsight, probably could have found a way to tone down his fiery assistant. Instead, as the losing mounted, the two knocked heads and in early December, Kidd kicked him off the bench.

It was a key moment in Kidd’s development as a coach.  Once his lead assistant was gone, he had no choice but to find his own voice.

Finding his way


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Jason Kidd during the Nets-Spurs game

“Everybody has to know who’s in charge,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said back in January. “And that’s the head coach. He’s the one calling the shots. I’ve never seen any one of the Pips try to lead. That’s Gladys’ role. Let Gladys be Gladys.”

In Brooklyn, Gladys is singing stronger than ever.

“He wasn’t being involved as much [in training camp],” Kirilenko said of Kidd recently. “He was watching more and observing. Now, he’s involved more and he’s talking more.”

Observing Kidd at one recent shootaround, Nets general manager Billy King said to assistant GM Frank Zanin, “From November to now, it’s night and day. It’s been a joy to watch.”

Kidd will tell you that he and the team grew together, that it took “everybody” to get through those first two months. King believes the improvement started with the coach.

“I think he developed the group,” King told NBA.com, “by spending time talking to individual players and the players as a group. I think he molded them to become a group and be one, rather than be individuals. It comes from sharing the basketball, being accountable.

“And that was him from the beginning. He challenged the guys to share the basketball, to sacrifice for each other.”

After a loss in Boston earlier this month, Kidd looked at the box score and didn’t lament that the Nets shot 4-for-30 from 3-point range, but that their shot distribution was unbalanced. Only four times this season has a Net attempted more than 20 shots in a game, and two of those games went to overtime. Only the Jazz (two) have fewer games of a player taking 20 or more shots. Fourteen teams have 20 or more.

Though five guys are getting paid like stars, it’s a team thing in Brooklyn. Ask Kidd about how a particular player impacted a game and he’d rather talk about the group. Ask him about himself and he probably won’t give you an answer at all (though he did say last week that he never regretted his choice to become a coach just days after retiring).

“We had a lot of long coaches meetings,” he said of his team’s early-season struggles. “We had a lot of long conversations with players. But there was never a panic of, like, ‘Maybe I should have kept playing, maybe we should have went on vacation a little bit longer.’ Sometimes you have to face adversity right off the bat and you get to find out who’s really in and who’s out. And those guys in the locker room are truly in and that’s what makes it special.”

Relying on ‘instincts’


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Nets improved play

When the Nets were looking for a coach last summer, Kidd told ownership, “We need a leader.” They suggested Kidd and, after an interview, King bought in and sought advice from his college coach.

“Don’t put him in a coaching box,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told King. “Let his instincts take over and he’ll be fine.”

Indeed, there’s probably more Jason Kidd in the coach than coach in Kidd. Or maybe he’s been a coach all along. Those who have watched the New York Knicks the last two seasons would certainly make that argument.

As the best point guard of the last 20 years, Kidd has had his teammates’ respect from Day 1. Now, he’s the closest thing the NBA has had to a player-coach since Dave Cowens in 1979.

“I look at him as the head coach,” Joe Johnson said. “But then I still look at him as a good friend. It’s almost like he’s still a player.”

The respect that players have for Kidd can go a long way. He hasn’t been afraid to bench one or more of his high-priced stars for the entire fourth quarter of a close game. Now that his team has found its identity, he has a feel for what is working and what isn’t.

Orchestrating a successful season


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck explains the Nets’ path to finding their identity

“From my seat [a few feet away from the bench], I get to see him orchestrate, from offense to defense,” King said. “He’s telling guys where to go and changing plays on the fly.”

And Kidd’s knowledge of what his team needs goes beyond his in-game decisions. Shaun Livingston was his choice for the back-up point guard spot last summer, a decision that has worked out brilliantly. In February, Kidd believed that his team could handle the addition of Jason Collins, and he was right on that one, too.

“The thing that really has struck me is his attention to detail as a rookie coach,” King said, “like player minutes to rotations to sticking with the bench longer than some other people would as a rookie coach. I think he’s managed players’ minutes to try to keep them as fresh as possible. A lot of times, as a rookie coach, they don’t, because they got to keep their best players out there to win that game.”

As a player, Kidd was usually the smartest guy on the floor. As a coach, he’s allowing his basketball mind to flourish.

“There are several teammates who I’ve played with where you can see that they just think the game, and their basketball IQ is off the charts,” Collins said. “J-Kidd was always that way as a teammate. Now, it’s turned into the Xs and Os.”

Kidd knows he still has a long way to go. Asked how comfortable he’s become as a coach, he replied, “I’m still working at it. There’s no comfort level here.”

The playoffs will be another huge test. Given that the Nets, overall, have fallen short of expectations, there are better Coach of the Year candidates. Kidd is still making questionable decisions, like intentionally fouling with the Nets up four points in the final seconds against Toronto earlier this month.

But considering how quickly he has developed and how well he’s recovered from his early growing pains, it’s clear that the Nets have found themselves a winner.

“He’s not going to do something just to be average at it,” King said. “He wants to be great at whatever he does, whether it’s golf, coaching, playing, he wants to be great at it. That’s the approach he took from Day 1 here.”

Back to that early-season criticism of Kidd: When he was hired, there was a consensus among observers that he would need some time to adjust to his new role. In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened in November and December.

Since then? Well, at this point, it would be nice to hear from Beck’s scout again.

“It’s a marathon,” Kidd said. “That’s the nice thing about the NBA season. You can be judged on the first game, but the ones who know best, you’re not judged until the end.”

He was speaking of his team. But he might well have been talking about himself.


VIDEO:
Rod Boone of Newsday talks about the Nets’ recent surge in play

Morning Shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson takes blame, Knicks postseason hopes on the brink | Bryant confident as ever Lakers will get back to the top | Heat defensive focus lags, struggles continue | Thunder will contend as long as Westbrook’s knee holds up

No. 1: Woodson shoulders blame as Knicks fall to Cavs, postseason hopes hang in the balance – Done in by Jarrett Jack. Is that the epitaph that will be written on this season for the New York Knicks? After Cleveland’s veteran point guard, filling in for All-Star Kyrie Irving, shredded them late to snap their eight-game win streak, it’s a legitimate question. Knicks coach Mike Woodson took the blame, a noble endeavor considering he was going to get his fair share anyway. But the Knicks’ postseason hopes hang in the balance every night and losses to the likes of the Cavaliers destroy the cause, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com points out::

Atlanta lost on Sunday afternoon, so the Knicks knew exactly what was at stake when they took the court on Sunday evening. That made the loss to the Cavs all the more catastrophic.

“We didn’t handle our business,” Woodson said, “and I’ve got to take full responsibility for that.”

“It’s tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We should’ve won this game. We gave it away. They earned it. They beat us.”

The Knicks were up 15 at the half but allowed Cleveland to score nine straight to start the third quarter.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Anthony said.

Anthony led the Knicks with 32 points but went cold late, missing 11 of his last 13 shots and all five in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks as a whole went 5-for-18 in the fourth and missed 11-of-15 3-pointers in the second half.

“They were just scrapping more, I think,” J.R. Smith said. “They were more hungry than us in the second half. … It’s a huge opportunity lost, one we can’t afford. But we can’t get it back. Just got to go out there on the road and win some games. Hopefully, [the Hawks] keep losing.”

That’s what the Knicks have been left with in this roller-coaster season: hoping the eighth-place Hawks can continue to give away their lead.

For what feels like the 30th time this season, the Knicks failed to do that. And it leaves Woodson and his team in a difficult spot. According to Elias Sports Bureau, just one team in the past 30 years has overcome a deficit of more than four games with 14 games or fewer to play in the regular season to make the playoffs.


VIDEO: Sunday’s top 10 plays

***

No. 2: Kobe in touch with Jim Buss, confident Lakers will get back to winning ways – Whatever he lacks in good health Kobe Bryant more than makes up for in unabashed confidence in himself and the Los Angeles Lakers resilience. This despicable season will be forgotten, as soon as he can get back to health and as soon as Jim Buss and the rest of the Lakers’ front office brass finish their franchise makeover. These tough times, Bryant insisted during an interview with ESPN’s sports business ace Darren Rovell, will not last. He did, however, acknowledge that things are going to be different without Dr. Jerry Buss around to fix the Lakers’ issues:

Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the team in November to lock up his 19th and 20th seasons in L.A., reiterated his message of urgency to Buss to return to the top as soon as possible.

“This organization is just not going to go [down],” Bryant said. “It’s not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.”

Despite already airing his concerns about what direction the Lakers might be heading, Bryant said his faith is as strong as ever in the Lakers’ ability to bounce back to contender status.

“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns [when he re-signed] and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.’”

Bryant also responded to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban‘s assertion that “I don’t know if the Lakers will ever be the Lakers,” because of the absence of longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died last year.

“It will be different,” Bryant said. “You can’t lead the way [Dr. Buss] did. Because Jeanie is different. Jimmy, who is running basketball operations, is different.

“So they have to find their rhythm and get in sync with each other and figure out exactly what their leadership style is going to be. It’s nearly impossible to try to separate basketball operations from the business standpoint so you got to kind of get in sync that with that and have one voice that is leading that charge. But once that happens, the idea might take shape. But you can’t look at what Dr. Buss did and say, ‘I’m going to try replicate that,’ and be exactly what he was. That’s just not going to happen.”


VIDEO:
Mavericks guard Monta Ellis was a flash against the Nets Sunday

***

No. 3: LeBron and Spoelstra point to lagging Heat defense as their struggles continue Bellyaching about your team’s energy, effort and championship focus in the wake of seven losses in your last 11 games is not a shocker, not even for the Miami Heat. But it’s good to get some specifics. And the Heat, fresh off of yet another head-scratching defeat (Saturday night in New Orleans), provided plenty. And it’s all about their defense, which has been uncharacteristically porous of late. That’s something everyone, from coach Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James and Chris Bosh, in the Heat camp can agree on. Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel highlights the particulars:

    “We’re not accustomed to this type of play, these types of standards, particularly on the defensive end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before giving his team Sunday off in advance of Monday’s visit by the Portland Trail Blazers to AmericanAirlines Arena. “And if we want to change, we have to look inward. Every single one of us, including the staff, including the players, have to make changes.”

Forward LeBron James said the Heat are failing on the defensive end both individually and collectively.

“First of all,” he said, “you have to guard your man, and rely on help second. But when you break down, you’re going to have to rely on the help, and we’re not getting both.

“First of all, guys are not playing their man. And guys get beat, which you will be, which will happen in this league, because there’s great players, the help comes. We’re not doing anything.”

Factor in the Heat’s longstanding rebound issues and the defensive pressure has been unrelenting.

“Sometimes we get stops and we don’t get a rebound. Sometimes we don’t get stops,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “It’s a lot of different things. At this point, we’ve got to put it all together, we’ve got to get stops and rebounds. We can’t get a stop and then give up an offensive rebound and get another 24 [seconds on defense].

“We’ve got to guard the ball, and then when the ball gets in the paint, we’ve got to step up, we’ve got to contest. Shot goes up, we’ve got to box out both bigs and got to get it and go.”

The frustration has shown on the court and in the locker room.

“Defensively, we can’t stop a nosebleed,” center Chris Bosh said. “No good blitz, the pick and roll coverage, one-on-one defense, everything is bad.”


VIDEO: Check out the Kevin Love Show from Sunday, starring … Kevin Love!

***

No. 4:Thunder’s title hopes rest on Westbrook’s knee – Miami and Indiana aren’t the only places where championship hopes are in doubt these days. Folks in Oklahoma are also wondering just how fragile their title aspirations are in the wake of yet another knee scare from All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Even with MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant destroying the competition night after night, the Thunder’s confidence is tied directly to the health of Westbrook and that knee. It’s a dangerous way for an entire state and fan base to live. But it’s the only way they, according to Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:

Nobody in our state slept well Friday night. Starting with Scotty Brooks, Sam Presti, Westbrook’s clothier, Rumble, that woman who screams “Russellllllllllllllllllllllll” during his foul shots and most everyone with a cable or satellite dish in every hamlet from Tuskahoma to Tonkawa.

For about 20 hours or so over the weekend, we all wondered if Russell Westbrook’s knee was tore up again. Westbrook limped off the court in Toronto on Friday, and the wind was replaced by “aarghs!” and “gulps” sweeping down the plain.

Of course, now word is that Westbrook is OK and might even play either Monday night (Denver in OKC) or Tuesday night (at Dallas). Whew. That was close.

Thunderland knows the feeling of life without Westbrook. Knows it all too well. And it stinks. When Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in the Houston series last playoffs, the Thunder scraped by the Rockets, then was bullied by the Grizzlies in a five-game series defeat. When Westbrook has sat out periodically this season, the Thunder has mostly struggled, save for a magical 10-game winning streak in January during which OKC was the league’s best team.

Westbrook’s latest scare is reason to ask this question. Is the Thunder better prepared to play without him this season than last season? If Westbrook limps off in some game soon, or in the middle of a playoff series, is the Thunder better-equipped to survive?

Depends on what survival means. Win the NBA championship? No. Not going to happen without Westbrook riding shotgun.

But go deeper in the playoffs? Win a tough West semifinal? At least challenge the Spurs or the Clippers or whoever emerges as the Western Conference elite? Yes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This is a different Raptors team than you are used to, one that is rising to the late-season challenge … Andre Miller finally clears the air about what went down in Denver … No one is doing it better these days than the bench mob from Phoenix … Kobe Bryant announces his partnership in a new business … Rockets big man Dwight Howard is practicing but remains “day-to-day” with that tender ankle … The surprising comeback for Steve Nash has already hit yet another injury snag

ICYMI of the Night: Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins wants you to know that this is his world and the rest of the big men in the league are just living in it …


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes hard for his 32 points and 12 rebounds

Livingston embodies Nets’ new identity

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Shuan Livingston about his long path back to NBA relevance

BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets are the most expensive team in NBA history, and their most important player right now is a guy making the league minimum.

The key to the Nets’ 22-9 record since Jan. 1 has been their defense, which is fifth-best in that time and has forced 19.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. No team has forced that many turnovers over a full, 82-game season since 1997-98.

The most important element of that improved Brooklyn defense is the length of Shaun Livingston, a guy who was signed to be the back-up point guard but who ranks third on the team in minutes and has started every game he’s played (he’s missed one) since … Jan. 1.

Playing small, the Nets have struggled on the glass, haven’t blocked many shots, and haven’t done a great job of keeping their opponents off the free throw line. But they’ve had defensive success due to contesting shots and forcing mistakes.

Kevin Garnett has been Brooklyn’s defensive anchor since Brook Lopez was lost for the season, but the Nets have gone 5-1 without KG in March. They’re allowing less than a point per possession because they still have backcourt length, which allows them to switch screens, help and recover and both get into the space of ball-handlers and into passing lanes.

As a 6-foot-7 point guard with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Livingston is the embodiment of Brooklyn’s new identity. He can smother opposing guards and switch onto forwards. With the game on the line in the final minute on Monday, Livingston poked the ball away from Toronto’s Terrence Ross.

“He’s so versatile,” Deron Williams said of his backcourt-mate after the win on Monday. “He’s been guarding the best players a lot of nights.”

It’s more than that. Livingston’s size unlocks everything the Nets do defensively. Without his size and activity, the scheme doesn’t work nearly as well, and the numbers bear that out. The Nets have been 8.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively since Jan. 1 when Livingston has been on the floor.

20140312_bkn_livingston

We all know Livingston’s story and it’s great to see him playing such a big role on a playoff team seven years after his gruesome and devastating knee injury as a Clipper. Less than 15 months ago, he was waived by the 3-22 Washington Wizards.

After doing a solid job in Cleveland in the second half last season, Livingston was Jason Kidd‘s choice to back-up Williams. Some of us thought he was a bad fit because of his poor (non-existent, really) perimeter shooting. But Kidd was right all along … although he couldn’t have known that he’d be relying on Livingston as much as he has.

The 28-year-old has already started more games (39) than he ever has and will surpass his career high in minutes next week.

“I didn’t know what to expect, coming in, being a back-up,” Livingston said. “But things happen in the NBA.”

This isn’t just a feel-good story, though. The Nets need Livingston, who has given them the identity that’s turned them into the team we’d thought they’d be at the beginning of the season with their $82 million starting lineup.

“You just try to find your niche,” he said. “Sometimes, you got to find your value on the court. What’s going to help my team win games? [Andrei] Kirilenko is the same way. We’re active. We’re long. So we have to use that to our advantage.”

The Nets are just two games over .500 and in sixth place in the weak East, but that 22-9 mark is the conference’s best in 2014. They’ve established themselves as a tough out for any team they’d face in the playoffs, including the Miami Heat. Brooklyn is 2-0 against Miami as the Heat host the Nets tonight (7 ET, ESPN).

It’ll be another game featuring a bunch of high-priced stars. And a guy making the minimum will play a big role.

Nets Keep Looking To Spend, Improve

Brooklyn acquired guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

Brooklyn picked up guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The first trade of deadline week went down Wednesday afternoon, with the Brooklyn Nets acquiring Marcus Thornton from the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.

The deal adds about $700,000 in salary and $2.7 million in luxury taxes to Brooklyn’s books this season. Next season, when all three guys are still under contract, it adds about the *same amount.

* More salary, less tax, because, at this point, Brooklyn is only in the third of five tax-payment tiers for ’14-15. Give ‘em time, though.

So, it’s a bit of an investment for Mikhail Prokhorov. But in theory, it should help the Nets continue to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since Jan. 1, a stretch in which they’ve gone from 10th to seventh in the East. They’re just 2 1/2 games out of a top-four seed and need to keep moving up to avoid playing the Pacers or Heat in the first round and have a decent shot at the conference semifinals.

After all the money they spent last summer, anything less than the second round would be a colossal failure. So hey, they might as well spend a few more million if it can make them better.

And as good as the Nets have played in 2014, they still have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 15th offensively and sixth defensively since Jan. 1. Given all their talent, they should be better at putting the ball in the basket.

That’s where Thornton comes in. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the floor (a rate which would rank fifth in the league in that time) and just 100.6 with him on the bench (a rate which would rank 25th). Though Williams hasn’t been at his best, he’s still the most important offensive player on his team.

Shaun Livingston has been one of the Nets’ bright spots and has worked well with Williams in the starting lineup, but the Nets’ second-unit offense could use a boost. Terry has been a disappointment, Alan Anderson‘s production has dropped off and, as brilliant as Andrei Kirilenko has been, he’s made two shots outside of the paint all season.

The problem is that Thornton has been having the worst shooting season of his career, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.7 percent. That’s worse than Terry was shooting.

So, the hope for Brooklyn is that Thornton can find his shot again. It was less than a month ago that he tied a career high with 42 points (shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point range) against the best defense of the last 37 years.

While he’s been rather inefficient this season, Thornton gives the Nets a higher ceiling and more potency than they had with Terry. If he plays well, he certainly fills a need.

The same could be said about Jordan Hill, if the Nets can get him from the Lakers for their disabled-player exception. In the same way that their offense takes a hit when their Williams sits, their defense falls apart when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.

But you wonder how Hill would fit in a second-unit frontline that already includes Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic. Each of those guys brings something to the table, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with the three of them on the floor together, and at least one of them would see a decrease in minutes if Hill was brought on board.

And then there’s the money. The Nets wouldn’t be sending any salary to L.A. in exchange for Hill, so he would cost them about $1.3 million in salary ($3.5 million prorated for the remainder in the season) and a whopping $16.6 million in luxury tax, bringing their total tax bill to more than $98 million. Add that to their salaries and they’d be a $200-million team.

That’s a lot of dough for a squad that doesn’t stand much of a chance of reaching the conference finals. But you can’t say that the Nets aren’t afraid to make a move or spend some money to address their needs.

Nets Smaller Starters Playing Elite D

BROOKLYN – Typically, teams play faster and are better offensively and worse defensively when they play small. The Brooklyn Nets are different.

Brook Lopez broke his foot and was lost for the season on Dec. 20. And it was on Jan. 2 when the Nets went to a starting frontline of Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on a permanent basis. Since then, the Nets have played slower, and have gone from the third worst defensive team in the league to top 10 on that end of the floor.

Nets record, pace and efficiency

Timeframe W L Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Through Dec. 31 10 21 94.6 25 101.9 18 106.7 28 -4.8 26
Since Jan. 1 12 4 92.6 28 105.9 13 101.8 9 +4.2 9
Season 22 25 93.9 26 103.2 17 105.0 20 -1.8 19

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

The Nets’ original starting lineup, with Garnett at the four and Lopez at the five, was OK defensively, allowing 101.4 points per 100 possessions. Of 71 lineups that played at least 75 minutes through Dec. 31st, it ranked 34th in DefRtg.

Not great, but not terrible either. And Brooklyn was better defensively, allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions, in the other 167 minutes that Garnett and Lopez were on the floor together. So playing big wasn’t necessarily a big problem.

But that’s not a lot of playing time. The Nets’ issues started with the lack of minutes (just 90 over 10 games before Lopez broke his foot) that their $82 million starting lineup played together. It was their other combinations that were truly awful defensively.

Nets lineups through Dec. 31

Lineup(s) MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Williams, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, Lopez 90 96.9 96.5 101.4 -4.9 -14
Other lineups 1,413 94.5 102.2 107.0 -4.8 -160

And here’s the thing. Their bench units are still pretty bad defensively. But since Jan. 1, their starters, with either Deron Williams or Alan Anderson as the third guard, have been ridiculously good on that end of the floor.

Nets lineups since Jan. 1

Lineup(s) MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Livingston, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett + Anderson or Williams 167 88.6 102.7 89.4 +13.3 +39
Other lineups 610 93.8 106.8 105.0 +1.8 +23

Allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions is elite defense. The Pacers have the best defense of the last 37 years, and they’ve allowed 93.9.

There’s some logic to improved D. Replacing Lopez with an extra guard has allowed the Nets to be more aggressive in defending pick-and-rolls, switch without worrying about mismatches, rotate and recover quicker, and better challenge 3-point shooters.

It helps that their top four guards are 6-foot-3, 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-7. Length goes a long way.

Through Dec. 31, the Nets ranked 30th in 3-point defense, allowing their opponents to shoot 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. In 2014, they’ve ranked 15th (35.7 percent). And opponents have shot just 31 percent from 3-point range against the two starting groups.

Those two groups have also forced 19.4 turnovers per 100 possessions, a rate that would lead the league. In fact, the Nets do lead the league by forcing 18.6 since Jan. 1. Livingston, Williams, Pierce and Andray Blatche have all averaged more than a steal per game since Jan. 1.

In regard to the how good the Nets’ starters are defensively, we’re looking at just 167 minutes of playing time. But 113 of those 167 have come against above-average offensive teams (and we’re not including the 14 minutes they played against the depleted Spurs on Thursday), so it’s not like the numbers are schedule-aided. They’ve shut down good teams.

And while the starters have played great D, the bench has held its own offensively. The Nets have scored a ridiculous 127.3 points per 100 possessions in 102 minutes with Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Andrei Kirilenko on the floor together.

Kirilenko’s health has been critical. His passing and off-ball cutting are two elements the Nets were desperately missing for most of the first two months of the season. Even on Thursday, the Nets were going to their typical mismatches (Johnson and Livingston in the post) early, but were rather stagnant offensively until Kirilenko entered the game.

Shooting is so important in this league, but while Kirilenko has shot just 1-for-13 from outside the paint this season, he has the highest on-court OffRtg of anybody in the rotation.

It makes you realize that, even though Lopez is done for the season, the Nets are still one of the deepest teams in the league, so deep that Jason Terry got a DNP on Thursday.

The talent was always there. The healthy bodies were not. Ironically, Lopez’s injury has helped the Nets find an identity that works and start to live up to their lofty expectations.

Nets Take Laughingstock Title Away From Knicks


VIDEO: The Knicks thump the Nets in a 30-point win

BROOKLYN – As the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks accumulated a surprisingly sad 8-26 cumulative record, it became abundantly clear that neither team could defend to save its season. Entering Thursday’s matchup of the busted boroughs, the Knicks ranked 28th defensively and the Nets ranked 30th.

Only one of the two teams took advantage of this fact, and the Knicks ran away with a 113-83 victory at Barclays Center, ending their nine-game losing streak.

On Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony said his team was “the laughingstock of the league.” But 24 hours later, they’ve been stripped of that title.

The Nets have the worst 3-point defense in the NBA, allowing their opponents to shoot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc entering Thursday’s game. They’re slow and deliberate on both ends of the floor, but really lack the foot speed to help in the paint and then recover to the 3-point line. So it only takes a dribble drive or a ball reversal for their opponent to get an open look from the outside.

The Knicks knew this, moved the ball and fired away on Thursday, hitting a season-high 16 threes on 27 attempts. Anthony (six assists and only 12 shots) shared the ball, Iman Shumpert (5-for-7 from 3-point range) shot with confidence, and the Knicks looked like the team they were last season, when they set an NBA record for 3-point makes and attempts, ranked third in offensive efficiency, and racked up 54 wins.

Against the league’s third-worst defense, the Nets should have been similarly efficient. With Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire as two of their three rotation bigs, the Knicks have consistently been torched on pick-and-rolls this season, often escorting opposing ball-handlers to the basket.

Yet the Nets went a good 10 minutes of the first quarter without running a pick-and-roll once. They too often tried to run their offense through the post, which allowed Bargnani and Stoudemire to stay stationary. The few times they did make those guys move, they got good shots.

Part of that is coaching. Though Brook Lopez led all scorers with 24 points, the Nets’ offense could have been a lot more effective as a whole if he was catching the ball on the move more than in the post. Jason Kidd has to find a way to get the ball and his players moving offensively. It’s far too early to say that hiring him was a mistake, but we’ve seen enough to say that he’s not a very good coach right now.

Injuries are obviously an issue. The Nets are still without Deron Williams, by far their biggest threat off the dribble. With Williams sitting out for the 10th time in the last 11 games, point guard duties were again left to Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor. Livingston is athletic, but not all that quick. Taylor is quick, but shaky and inexperienced.

Still, Brooklyn could have run more pick-and-rolls with both, or with Joe Johnson, and just tried to make the New York defense move. They didn’t and they lost by 30.

Both Kidd and Kevin Garnett cited the injuries when discussing their struggles after the game. Garnett added that the Nets are making changes in the wake of Lawrence Frank‘s sudden departure from the bench.

“Those things play a big part into this,” Garnett said. “I’m a firm believer when we’re whole and we have our team full throttle, then that’s what I believe in. Obviously, I believe in the guys that’s put on the floor and we’re going to give it an effort, but when you’re playing teams, you want to play at your whole. That’s what I believe in. And I’m not going to believe anything else until we are whole.”

Before the game, Kidd said that “we all feel confident we have enough to win.” After the game, he asked not to be judged until his team is healthy.

“I think you get evaluated by being whole,” he said. “It starts there. And then once that occurs, then you’re evaluated. That’s as simple as it gets.”

Yes, the Nets are missing four of their top eight guys. And Williams’ importance became even more clear on Thursday. But the Nets still lost at home … by 30 points … to a team that hadn’t won in three weeks and is missing its most important player. The injury excuse only goes so far. And while Williams will help the Brooklyn offense, the defense isn’t going to start looking like that of the Heat upon his return.

Tyson Chandler’s eventual return isn’t going to solve all New York’s problems either. The Knicks are still a long way from digging out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, especially because they don’t get to play the Nets again until Jan. 20. But they do have a relatively soft schedule over the next two weeks and certainly found some confidence Thursday.

Will that translate into a run up the standings? Even if it doesn’t, at least they’re not the laughingstock of the league anymore.

Nets Nearing Point Of No Return?




VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Nets’ rough start to the season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Humbling is the weight of great expectations, as the men in black and white in Brooklyn have learned through the first month of this NBA season. It’s a lesson their counterparts in Los Angeles, the Lakers, learned in much the same fashion last season. The addition of star power, remembered, real or imagined, does not always translate.

Brooklyn’s Nets are in essence a complete mess right now. A 3-10 record, next to last in the Eastern Conference standings, wounded bodies, pierced pride and nearing the point of no return is where this crew resides heading into tonight’s matchup (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) with a Toronto Raptors team that currently occupies the top-four spot in the Eastern Conference standings that the Nets assumed was theirs.

Without Deron Williams and Brook Lopez healthy, some would argue that it is unfair to grade this team at this juncture. But there are troubling signs with this team regardless of the personnel being deployed, a point made clear by our very own John Schuhmann recently.

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have struggled mightily in the season’s opening month.

No disrespect to the men at work, but you know things are dire when Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee are the only players on your roster who pose a consistent threat to opposing teams with their athleticism, energy and passion. That collection of aged superstars who were supposed to lead this group have, for whatever reasons, not answered the call on a nightly basis.

Take Sunday’s loss to Detroit for example. To start the fourth quarter, Nets coach Jason Kidd a lineup of Plumlee, Tyshawn Taylor, Alan AndersonToko Shengelia and Mirza Teletovic on the floor against Detroit. They trailed by 12 points, due the inept performance, to that point, of the first six who had dug that hole.

Kidd, and his top assistant Lawrence Frank, were desperate to energize a group that has slumbered through this season since that Nov. 1 win over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in their home opener.

The idea of Williams, Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Jason Terry terrorizing the league from opening night through the end of the regular season was a pipe dream from the start. But the reality of the Nets’ situation is even more grave than any of their critics might have imagined.

The Nets are last in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions. With Lopez on the floor they’re much better, ranking sixth defensively, but Lopez has missed five straight games.  And in those five games he’s been out, it’s been a parade for opposing teams. The Nets are allowing 113.1 points per 100 possessions in his absence. Had someone told you the linchpin to the Nets season would be the defensive presence of Lopez, you’d have slapped them.

Yet that is exactly where the team with the worst second-half defensive in the league stands as of right now. And that’s not even factoring in the inevitable locker room fissures that are bound to pop up when a high-profile team encounters these sorts of struggles.

Garnett was supposed to be a culture-changer, the sort of dynamic force that unites a group, even mismatching pieces, into a cohesive unit the way he did in Boston. That obviously hasn’t happened, at least not yet. And there is no guarantee it will. Not with the make-up of this group and the fact that there isn’t someone at the top (in Boston it was coach Doc Rivers) to set the tone and table for a player with Garnett’s reputation and leadership skills to do his thing without any second guessing from within that locker room.

Granted, it would be much easier for others to follow Garnett if Garnett wasn’t struggling through his own Jekyll-and-Hyde routine  – using PIE, Garnett is the league’s fifth-best player in the first half and the league’s worst player in the second half — this season.

Ultimately, the onus for this team and its fortunes rests on the entire group and whether or not they can tread water until they get everyone healthy enough to have a chance to chase the enormous expectations that have been set for them, both internally and beyond.

But we’re getting dangerously close that to that 20-game mark where a team’s true colors show. And the Nets from everything we’ve seen, have not lived up to the hype and quite frankly may not be able to as presently constituted.

Got Shooting? It’s Going Fast

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2012-13 season shall forever be known as the year of the three. There were 3-point records set on the individual, team and league levels. And Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of The Finals will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Furthermore, there was a much stronger correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of a team’s shots from 3-point range than we’d seen previously. With one notable exception — the Denver Nuggets — the best offenses in the league shot a lot of threes, or at least shot them very well.

Top 10 offenses, 2012-13

Team OffRtg 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank 3PA% Rank
Miami 110.3 717 1,809 39.6% 2 28.5% 5
Oklahoma City 110.2 598 1,588 37.7% 3 24.4% 12
New York 108.6 891 2,371 37.6% 5 35.4% 1
L.A. Clippers 107.7 627 1,752 35.8% 16 26.5% 8
Denver 107.6 521 1,518 34.3% 25 21.7% 22
Houston 106.7 867 2,369 36.6% 9 34.9% 2
San Antonio 105.9 663 1,764 37.6% 4 26.4% 9
L.A. Lakers 105.6 715 2,015 35.5% 19 30.3% 3
Brooklyn 105.0 628 1,760 35.7% 17 26.9% 7
Golden State 104.2 658 1,632 40.3% 1 23.9% 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range

The Nuggets were upset in the first round when they couldn’t make 3-pointers and, more importantly, couldn’t stop the Warriors from making them. And now, Denver is without the three guys who made the most 3-pointers for them last season. Danilo Gallinari (135) is recovering from ACL surgery, Corey Brewer (91) is a free agent (who could come back), and Andre Iguodala (91) is heading to Golden State.

There’s a lot more to success in this league, but if you want to compete for a championship, you need guys who can knock down long-distance shots. There were several available on the market and a handful of good teams that needed them to take the next step. A couple of those teams will be signing a couple of those shooters. Here’s a look at the contending teams that needed shooting the most and what they’ve done to address the problem…

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 100.4 (24), 3PT%: 35.3% (21), 3PA%: 18.9% (29)
The Bulls’ offense will obviously be better with the return of Derrick Rose, but they still need better perimeter shooting to complement their penetrating point guard. They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2011-12, but then said goodbye to Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson.

They’re heading back in the right direction this summer, upgrading from Marco Belinelli (35.7 percent) to Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent), who ranked third in 3-point percentage among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. There are few players in the league better than Dunleavy at coming off pin-down screens and draining threes on the wings.

Jimmy Butler should also be a more dangerous shooter, especially with Rose coming back. After shooting just 1.3 threes per game at 38 percent in the regular season, Butler shot 3.1 per game at 41 percent in the playoffs. No. 20 pick Tony Snell is known as a shooter, but hit just 64 threes in 35 games at New Mexico last season.

The Bulls haven’t exactly turned into last year’s Knicks when it comes to shooting threes, but they have taken a step forward.

Denver Nuggets

OffRtg: 107.6 (5), 3PT%: 34.3% (25), 3PA%: 21.7% (22)
The Nuggets took a big step backward by losing Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos to Memphis. And we don’t know if they’ll play the same fast-paced, attacking style under coach Brian Shaw that they did under coach George Karl.

But Denver will get one of the better shooters on the market by sending Iguodala out via a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors and Jazz that brings them Randy Foye, who ranked second among free agents with 178 threes last season and shot them at a 41.0 percent clip. Foye will likely split time at shooting guard with Evan Fournier, who shot a solid 22-for-54 (41 percent) in limited regular season action last season (and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs).

The Nuggets will also have a full season of Wilson Chandler, who shot well after returning from injury last season. Denver’s defense will most certainly fall off without Iguodala, but the Nuggets might actually have a little more inside-out balance to their offense.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.6 (19), 3PT%: 34.7% (22), 3PA%: 24.5% (11)
Like the Nuggets, the Pacers thrive in the paint (just not as well). And the No. 1 defense in the league helped them make up for their lack of shooting. But they could have used a few more weak-side threes against the Heat’s aggressive defense in the conference finals, when Lance Stephenson shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over his last six full seasons, Danny Granger hit 901 threes at 39 percent. And with Granger set to return from the knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season, returning team president Larry Bird didn’t have to do a thing to improve his team’s 3-point shooting.

But Bird went out and got Watson (41 percent last season) and Chris Copeland (42 percent) to give his team some more punch off the bench. No. 22 pick Solomon Hill was also decent shooter (39 percent on threes) at Arizona. He might not play much as a rookie, but he can’t be a worse from the perimeter than defensive specialist Sam Young was.

Last season, Frank Vogel only had D.J. Augustin — a defensive liability — to turn to when he needed more shooting on the floor. Now, he’s got plenty of options.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 101.7 (18), 3PT%: 34.5% (24), 3PA%: 16.6% (30)
The Rudy Gay trade didn’t change much for the Grizz, who made a league-low 4.6 threes per game after the deal. And they have yet to do anything in free agency to improve their perimeter offense. Tony Allen, returning on a new contract, is the definitive shooting guard who can’t shoot. Even their top draft pick — Jamaal Franklin — is a wing who doesn’t shoot very well.

The Grizzlies still have their mid-level exception to spend. And there are a couple of shooters still left on the market (see below). They also have a trade exception worth almost $7.5 million to absorb a contract from a team willing to deal them a shooter. But right now, they look like they could rank last in the league in 3-pointers for a second straight season.

Still on the market

For the Grizzlies and other teams still looking for shooters, the pickings are rather slim. Here are their six best options (in order of how many threes they hit last season), all of which come with issues …

Nate Robinson — 141-for-348 (40.5 percent)
Robinson had his best shooting season with the Bulls. And though he was mostly the Bulls’ back-up point guard, 101 of his 141 threes were assisted, so he can certainly play off the ball. He has improved defensively and is certainly making better decisions than he was earlier in his career, but it still isn’t easy for a coach to trust him with the ball in his hands for big minutes.

Wayne Ellington — 94-for-240 (39.2 percent)
Of the free agents that are still available, only three — Brandon Jennings (173), Robinson and Alan Anderson (95) — hit more threes than Ellington did last season. He was a decent role player in Memphis before it sent him to Cleveland for financial flexibility.

Gary Neal — 89-for-251 (35.5 percent)
Neal hit six threes in Game 3 of The Finals, but shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season (31st among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes) after shooting 42 percent in his first two years with the Spurs, who have seemingly swapped him for Belinelli. (They didn’t have an Italian on their roster, after all.)

Roger Mason Jr. — 66-for-159 (41.5 percent)
Of the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only 11 shot them better than 40 percent. And only two — Robinson and the Pelicans’ Mason Jr. — are still on the market. Mason doesn’t do much more than make threes, but you can do worse if you need a fifth guard on your roster.

Mo Williams — 59-for-154 (38.3 percent)
Jazz starting guard Williams can handle the ball or play off it. In his two seasons playing next to LeBron James, he shot 43 percent from 3-point range, and only two players — Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen — hit more threes than Williams did over those two years. But he played a career-low 46 games last season and defense is an issue.

Anthony Morrow — 16-for-43 (37.2 percent)
There was a point a few years ago when Morrow qualified as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. He’s still a great shooter, but doesn’t have as quick a release as some others, struggles when he needs to put the ball on the floor, and is a defensive liability. He couldn’t get off the bench for the Mavs as they were making their playoff push last season.

Three more points

  • The Timberwolves were by far the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but should move up the rankings with a healthy Kevin Love (who shot 22 percent), a healthy Chase Budinger (who shot 32 percent) and with the addition of Kevin Martin (who shot 43 percent for OKC). Martin’s presence will also mean that they’ll need less minutes from Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour (who may be traded) at the two. The pair combined to attempt 500 threes last season, connecting on only 30 percent of them.
  • Brooklyn shot a lot of threes last season, but didn’t shoot them particularly well. Things will get better with Paul Pierce (38 percent) replacing Gerald Wallace (28 percent) at small forward. But Watson (41 percent) was their best 3-point shooter last season and he’s been replaced by Shaun Livingston, who has made a grand total of nine threes in 390 career games. Assuming that coach Jason Kidd will have one of his starters — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Pierce — playing with the second unit, a back-up point guard who can shoot (Toney Douglas, perhaps?) would have been a better option. Either way, the Nets’ success could be determined by the ability of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic to knock down shots and keep Pierce and Kevin Garnett fresh.
  • The Clippers were another team that shot a lot of threes at a mediocre percentage. And while they’re getting two great shooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they’re replacing two guys — Caron Butler (39 percent) and Willie Green (43 percent) — who shot rather well from 3-point range last season. (Green is still on the roster, but likely out of the rotation.)

Rick’s Tips: Hurting Over Kyrie



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The hits just keep on coming from the injury bug.

NBA.com/FantasyOver the weekend, we heard that Amar’e Stoudemire needs a procedure to fix his knee that will cost him 6-8 weeks. And here on Monday, we learn that Kyrie Irving’s season is likely over due to a left shoulder sprain that will sideline him for the next 3-4 weeks.

As a proud Irving owner in League Freak, let me just say that I am in fantasy mourning as I peck away at this article. My slim hopes of winning my first League Freak title just took a serious hit.

Unfortunately, this is a recurring theme for Kyrie, who missed significant time earlier this season with a broken hand, and more recently due to a knee injury. If the Cavs decide to shut him down to rest that pesky shoulder, Irving will finish this season with a measly 49 games. Last year, Irving appeared in 51 of 66 games due to a myriad of injuries. In his one-and-done year at Duke, Irving played only 11 games, starting eight of them, thanks to a toe injury.

Going forward, there are two ways to look at Irving the fantasy player. If you have not owned him in either of his two seasons, you will probably try to go bargain shopping for him in next year’s draft. And if you have owned him, then he may have scorned you to the point of passing on him for lesser talent due to the injury risk.

I have owned Irving in each of his two pro seasons, and while I believe in the player (huge fan, actually), I no longer believe in the body of the player. There aren’t too many guys who average 23 points, 5.7 assists, 1.9 threes, and 1.6 steals, with shooting percentages of 47-41-84. However, given the parade of injuries over the past three years, it appears those numbers may be Fool’s Gold.

Moving on, one of the main fantasy beneficiaries of Irving’s injury is Shaun Livingston. Yep, the same Shaun Livingston who survived one of the worst knee injuries in the history of sports a few years back. Livingston recently started three games for Irving, averaging 13.3 points on 50+ percent shooting in exactly 33 minutes each game. Buyer beware: Livingston doesn’t hit threes or steal the rock, so his upside is limited.

Look for Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles to play more minutes and jack up more shots without Irving in the lineup. Of the two, look for the biggest spike in fantasy value from Waiters, who averaged 21.7 points in 34 minutes in three recent games without Kyrie.

Miles is averaging 13.4 points, 2.4 threes, and 1.8 steals in 22.6 minutes in five games this month. Assuming his minutes creep toward 30, even if he comes off the bench, it’s not hard to see Miles scoring 15+ with plenty of goodies every night.

Rick Kamla is an anchor on NBA TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @NBATVRick.

Wall’s Return Puts Heat On Wittman

 

HANG TIME, Texas – The win over the defending champion Heat in the first week of December was an eye opener. Taking down the Thunder in the first week of January was no less impressive.

But if the goal of the Wizards is to provide more than a once-a-month shock to the NBA system, then the season begins tonight.

Point guard John Wall will make his season debut tonight against the Hawks after missing three months due to a stress injury in his left patella. While nobody is expecting to see the player that averaged 16.3 points. 8.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons, just having the former No. 1 draft pick on the court is finally a lift for the club that is again foundering at the bottom with a 5-28 record, the worst in the league.

Wall is trying to keep a lid on expectations, as he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post:

“I figure the first couple games probably won’t be the best games,” Wall said after practicing for the third consecutive day without complications from his left knee.

“Just go out there and play my game,” he said. “Don’t do too much. I know that’s the main thing I’ve got to do for my first game back. Just let the game come to me and just try to help my team out.”

Wall also doesn’t expect to have a difficult adjustment to playing alongside several new teammates after sitting next to the Wizards coaching staff for nearly every game and observing their tendencies. His teammates have already marveled as his speed and decision-making, which has been sorely missed for a team has started five different point guards this season – A.J. Price, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.

When asked if he felt any external or internal pressures with coming back, Wall quickly responded, “No pressure at all.”
The biggest challenge for him, Wall said, will be “getting my legs underneath me but just working the offense, being the point guard, finding my teammates and knowing guys’ sweet spots is pretty easy to me.”

Without Wall to run the show, the Wizards have been virtually clueless all season, unable to attack defenses and score. In one more season when Washington made significant changes to the lineup — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, rookie Bradley Beal – they have clearly lacked a leader to pull it all together.

While the medical staff will have Wall operating under a limit on playing minutes as he works his way back into game shape, Wizards coach Randy Wittman says there will be no limits to what he asks of his franchise player in terms of leading his team.

“John is going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Wittman said. “I don’t want to take any pressure off him. He hasn’t gotten any pressure yet this year. I want him to feel some pressure. John likes pressure.”

Of course, Wittman can only hope that Wall will relieve any pressure on his own situation, which has to be in the crosshairs of a season when Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles have already been relieved of their head coaching jobs.

If there has been a reason that Wittman has been spared the same fate, it’s because he’s been coaching with one hand tied behind his back without Wall. Now that the Wizards’ main man is back in the lineup, the heat is on and the clock is ticking.