Posts Tagged ‘Tiago Splitter’

Duncan Not Publicly Planning His Exit


VIDEO: Tim Duncan and the Spurs pick up a big win vs. the Clippers in L.A.

During his news conference with the world’s media just a few minutes before Sunday night’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, Kobe Bryant said he hadn’t given any real thought to when he might finally retire.

“I don’t really want the rocking chair before the game,” he said.

Neither would Tim Duncan.

For 17 NBA seasons now, he’s been about the game and not the showmanship. In winning four championships and two MVP awards, Duncan has been as inscrutable as the Sphinx, keeping his personality walled up within the Spurs locker room, rarely even smiling in public. Except, of course, for that time he supposedly laughed at referee Joey Crawford.

One could more readily imagine Duncan slipping into a shirt of thorns rather than a comfortable public embrace from all corners of the NBA.

That’s why it would be unwise immediately to dismiss the comment made by former NBA coach George Karl, now an ESPN analyst, on SportsCenter:

“You know over the weekend, that was the whispers that I got. I got a couple of phone calls, one from San Antonio that said that Tim Duncan’s thinking this is going to be his last year. The best, most fundamental big guy ever to play in the NBA, and he leaving would make me very, very sad. The San Antonio Spurs without Tim Duncan would be very difficult for me to watch.”

Even as he approaches his 38th birthday in April, it is not at all difficult to watch Duncan play near the incredibly high standard that he has always set for himself. He’s averaging 15.6 points and 10 rebounds per game and has a true shooting percentage of 53.6. His PER of 22.09 ranks 18th in the league, even though he is playing an average of just 29.6 minutes.

In the last game before the All-Star break, Duncan scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, leading a Spurs lineup that was without Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter to a win at Boston. He has been as sturdy as an oak, starting more games (49) than any other member of the lineup to push San Antonio to the No. 2 seed in the West. In other words, Duncan is still an elite player and likely could have appeared in his 15th All-Star Game if Gregg Popovich hadn’t likely spread the word to his coaching peers that his big man needed a weekend off.

There was a time after the 2011 playoffs, when the No. 1 seeded Spurs were upset by the No. 8 Grizzlies in the first round, that it seemed unfathomable that Duncan would still be playing now. He was slow, worn out, injured and overwhelmed by the inside Memphis tandem of bruising Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

But Duncan used that humbling experience as a reason to spend the summer changing his diet, changing his workout regimen and ultimately changing his body so that he’s returned to the court lighter, healthier and able to have fun and dominate again. The result was the Spurs going to the Western Conference finals in 2012 and pushing the Heat to the Game 7 limit before losing in the NBA Finals last June.

Duncan signed a three-year, $30-million contract in 2012, the final season a player option and there was talk at the time that he might very well take a pass on that. But since then the Spurs signed Parker and Ginobili to new deals, all of them set to expire at the end of 2014-15, the assumption that the Big Three would take two more cracks at winning the the fifth title in franchise history.

So would Tim walk out the door prematurely on Tony and Manu and Pop?

Only if he feels like the spark and the joy are no longer out there on the court every night. Only if he decides the physical and mental sacrifices to keep himself pushing forward at his high and exacting standards are too much. Which, creeping up on 38, that could happen any day.

So much will depend on how the Spurs and Duncan handle another playoff grind. You can certainly see the championship that slipped through their fingers as a motivational force this time around. But what if the injury-plagued Spurs don’t get back to The Finals for another try at the ring? Or even out of the first or second round?

Even if he’s thinking it, Duncan won’t crack and let us know or share his feelings or an itinerary. He’ll just keep shooting and rebounding and setting screens and doing all those things that make him the Big Fundamental until he doesn’t.

He won’t hit the rocking chair, just the exit door.


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks about the Spurs’ win against the Clippers

Spurs Need To Get Healthy On Rodeo Trip


VIDEO: Tim Duncan has 23 points and 17 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Kings

In one way, the 2014 edition of the Spurs’ Rodeo Trip is like all the others. It’s a time for coming together.

Usually that means bonding as a team, forging a closeness in spirit, identity and execution on the court.

This time it simply means picking up the pieces and trying to glue them all together.

As they open the nine-game, 8,989 mile odyssey tonight in New Orleans, the Spurs would appear to be about as fragile as Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl legacy. They good news is they’ll face only four teams with records above .500 on the trip. They bad news is they’ll do it with a roster that has Manu Ginobili (hamstring), Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Danny Green (hand) all in various stages of injury rehabilitation and Tiago Splitter (shoulder) just getting back into the rotation after more than three weeks on the shelf.

“We’ve still got to go play all the games,” coach Gregg Popovich told reporters before Saturday’s home win over Sacramento. “When the game is over nobody cares. Nobody says, ‘Well, who was out for that team?’ You either won or you lost and you got better or you didn’t. So it’s all the same stuff. We want to concentrate on all the same things offensively and defensively, the things we want to get better at, and just go.”

Despite their current position tied for the No. 2 seed in the West, the Spurs do have a need to get better quickly, having lost three of their last four games and five out of eight since the middle of January. After a stellar 35-6 home record a year ago, they have also lost eight games already this season at the AT&T Center. Perhaps most telling, the Spurs are just 1-11 against opponents with the top six records in the NBA this season — Pacers, Thunder, Blazers, Heat, Clippers and Rockets.

It would then hardly seem a good time for a team to embark on a lengthy All-Star break-straddling road trip that will take them from coast to coast and playing games in four time zones before their next home game on Feb. 26.

However, the Spurs have traditionally used the period they have to vacate their own stable for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo as time to solidify their standing in the conference and make a push for elite playoff seeding.

Since the beginning of the tradition in 2003, the Spurs have an overall mark of 65-26 on 11 rodeo trips and have posting a losing record. In the past three seasons, they are 21-6.

According to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, while the Spurs have the best winning percentage (70.5) in North American professional sports since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997, they are actually better on the rodeo trip (71.4).

A year ago the Spurs went 7-2 on their trek, even though they played the first five games without the injured Duncan and Ginobili.

But this might be a more difficult challenge. In their final home game before departing, a narrow 95-93 escape past the Kings, the Spurs started a deep backup point guard Cory Joseph at the shooting guard spot and started at small forward with Shannon Brown, a player who’d just been signed to a 10-day contract and never had time for a practice.

With Splitter getting back onto the floor briefly against Sacramento, Green is expected to be the next to return, maybe playing by the end of the week. Leonard is a possible addition by the time the Spurs hit the West Coast after the All-Star break, while Ginobili could miss the entire journey.

“They’re trickling in,” Duncan said. “It’s great to have bodies back out there, great to start getting everyone healthy. Now it’s about getting their rhythm back, their wind back and get into game shape.”

Spurs’ New Challenge Measured In Minutes And Months


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and the Thunder handle the Spurs in San Antonio

At this time of year, the sting of a single loss is nothing to really worry about.

It’s the piling up of injuries that cause the pain and could burn up the Spurs’ season.

Forward Kawhi Leonard broke a finger in Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder and will probably be sidelined for a month. He’ll join in rehab and on the bench with center Tiago Splitter (sprained shoulder) and guard Danny Green (broken finger).

Here’s where the challenge begins. Not merely trying to survive without three regular members of the starting lineup, but trying to keep a lid on the minutes of San Antonio’s Big Three.

Coach Gregg Popovich has long treated the bodies of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as if they were art work from a museum, spending the regular season as much as a curator and caretaker as a coach. More anything else, he protects them.

That’s why when the Spurs traveled to Miami for a nationally televised, much-anticipated date against the Heat, Popovich gave Duncan, Ginobili and Parker the night off, even going so far as to booking them on a Southwest Airlines flight home to San Antonio. For that, the Spurs were fined $250,000 by commissioner David Stern.

Even a chastened Popovich never apologized for his actions to protect the long term health of his franchise trio and said again after the latest blow that doing anything else would be “unwise.”

So after a Friday night stop in Atlanta, the Spurs will travel to Miami on Sunday for another marquee game against the Heat on ABC (1 p.m. ET). It will be their first trip back to South Florida since Games 6 and 7 of The Finals last June, the first chance to exorcise the demons of those painful losses.

But the Spurs and Popovich have never been about one game. Nor have they been scratching and clawing for every ounce out of the regular season, even if it means falling a spot or two in the Western Conference standings. Their belief has long been that playoff seeding is not as important as health. That’s never been more important than now when Duncan is 37, Ginobili is 36 and Parker is 31.

The Thunder proved again in their 111-105 win that they can ride the prolific scoring abilities of Kevin Durant — even in the absence of the injured Russell Westbrook — and rise to the top of the conference standings.

For the Spurs, it was a defeat that dropped them to 3-8 against the other teams currently ranked among the top six in the West. Yet even with another costly loss, there will be no panic, no change in plan. At least for now.

Popovich maintains that he’ll do everything he can to keep playing time right about where it is for Duncan (29.2 mpg) Ginobili (24.6) and Parker (31.6).

While the temptation may be great and the necessity could arrive if the Spurs have to pull themselves out of a sudden long skid, the focus must remain on the distant horizon. Especially if there is to be any hope of eventually landing the franchise’s fifth NBA title.

The truth is that those title hopes will rest as much with Leonard, Splitter and Green. Their legs and lungs that injected some much-needed youth into the lineup last season, enabling the Spurs to make their surprising Finals run. It was Leonard, Splitter and Green who were the leading scorers 10 months ago on the last occasion when the Spurs beat OKC. That trio walked off the floor at the AT&T Center to a thunderous ovation that was supposed to be a peek at the future.

Theirs is a solar system that still revolves around the Big Three, but the youth and speed of the Little Three give the Spurs defense more bite. They also give Popovich so many more ways to go from night to night, quarter to quarter, possession to possession.

“Kawhi’s news is way tougher than the loss,” Ginobili said on Wednesday night. “We have to figure it out.”

So they’ll go small at times and they’ll reach with defensive match-ups that occasionally are unexpected or exotic. But what the Spurs insist they won’t do is burn themselves out in January or February and leave nothing but ashes for April, May and June.

“I won’t overplay Timmy, Manu and Tony just to win games,” Popovich said.

That’s the challenge. No matter how much it hurts.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger ready to play | Lakers sign Marshall | L.A. bright spot? | Warriors stumble … again

No. 1: Granger back Friday night — The Indiana Pacers are neck-and-neck with the Miami Heat in the running for Best Team in The Eastern Conference, and they’ll get what they hope to be a huge leg up Friday when Danny Granger returns to the lineup against Houston (8 p.m., ESPN) .

Granger, an All-Star in 2009 when he averaged almost 26 points a game, has played in only five games this season nursing an injured calf. He played in only 62 games last year — and was used sparingly in most of those — as he dealt with knee injuries that eventually led to a surgery.

Now, the Pacers hope to slowly work him back into the lineup, with many around the team hoping he can eventually be a scoring threat off the bench that the sometimes offensively-challenged Pacers so desperately need.

From Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:

Before getting too excited about some super second unit consisting of Granger, Lance Stephenson and Luis Scola, exercise caution. Granger will not immediately impact the lineup. Coach Frank Vogel said there’s no medical restrictions on Granger’s minutes but he will be limited 15-20 per game to start.

The Pacers have waited this long for him and can afford to wait for Granger to get his game rhythm and timing back. Although Granger knows the playbook, he admitted last week that he still needs to run the plays more. So, it will be some time before Granger can boost up the second unit.

“I’m still probably going to have a few mishaps,” Granger said. “That’s uncharacteristic of me but I’m going to be a lot better than I (would have been if I tried to come back last week).”

Indiana ranks near the bottom of the league in second-quarter scoring (21.6 points), which has traditionally been the time when Stephenson leads the second unit. As Granger is finding his way into the flow of the offense, you can expect him to mirror the things that Rasual Butler has done over the last three games — stretching out to either corner and letting Stephenson facilitate.

Granger’s goal? To be 100 percent by the playoffs.

“That’s how much time I have,” he said. “It’s not a thing where I have to rush or do this or do that. As long as I’m ready by the playoffs, I’ll be fine.”

***

No. 2: Marshall to the rescue – Eric Pinkus of the Los Angeles Times has the news of Kendall Marshall‘s signing. The young point guard, the 13th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, was drafted by the Suns, traded to the Wizards, waived by the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and has been in the Philadelphia 76ers’ organization since:

Marshall recently joined the Delaware 87ers in the NBA Development League, averaging 19.4 points and 9.6 assists in seven appearances.

The Lakers are suddenly devoid of point guards with injuries to Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (elbow), Jordan Farmar (hamstring) and temporary fill-in Kobe Bryant (knee).

Marshall is 6 feet 4. The North Carolina product is 22 years old.

His deal with the Lakers is non-guaranteed.

***

No. 3: Kobe’s loss, Lakers’ gain — The biggest sports news of Thursday was Kobe Bryant‘s injury, which forced the signing of Marshall. While many see it as a type of basketball Armageddon in Southern California — the Clippers rising, the Lakers slipping further into the Pacific — venerable L.A. columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times points out some of the good things that can happen with Bryant sitting out for the next six weeks. He also urges some action on the Lakers’ part:

There is sadness felt by an aging superstar who could be losing a slow fight with his body. There is sadness felt by a Lakers organization whose recent, foolish $48.5-million investment in Bryant is looking worse by the ache. There is sadness from the fans who will have to endure at least another 21 games without the electric promise of Bryant’s presence.

But step back, look past the sight of Bryant crumpled on the floor in Memphis, breathe past the shock that he played an entire half on a broken knee, and understand that the big picture looks far different.

This awful occurrence is actually the best thing for everyone.

Now the Lakers can tank without tanking.

Now the Lakers can finally begin their inevitable rebuilding process and maintain their dignity while doing it.

Without Bryant, the makeshift remaining team can play hard enough to entertain while losing enough to drop into next summer’s rich draft lottery.

Without Bryant, the Lakers finally have the excuse they need to speed up this renovation by trading Pau Gasol.

.***

No. 4: Warriors tripped up again Golden State, a team that was supposed to be challenging for the top spot in a stacked Western Conference, was knocked off by San Antonio late Thursday night on a tip-in by Tiago Splitter. Losing to San Antonio brings no shame. But losing to the Spurs without their Big Three of Tim Duncan (taking a breather), Manu Ginobili (also taking it easy) and Tony Parker (who is injured) — and in Oakland, no less — has some folks in the Bay Area starting to get nervous. From Carl Steward of the Oakland Tribune:

It was a horrible loss for Warriors, who dropped to 14-13, arguably their worst of the season. If losing to a spurious aggregation of Spurs on the home floor wasn’t bad enough, Golden State’s most prominent tormentor was a former Warrior, Marco Belinelli, who poured in 28 points to spearhead the San Antonio shocker.

Oh, and then there was Saint Mary’s College alum Patty Mills, who filled in nicely for Parker with 20 points.

But in the final accounting, it was really the Warriors who did themselves in. They committed 24 turnovers — 12 in each half — resulting in 31 San Antonio points. They blew an early 14-point lead by halftime. They hoisted up 31 3-point tries and made just eight.

“It was kind of a trap game, but coming in, I knew it’d be tough,” Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala said. “They played a solid four quarters of basketball, and we only played a good nine minutes in the first quarter.”

Andrew Bogut said it most bluntly of all, noting, “We can’t lose this game at home, period.”

Beyond Stephen Curry (30 points, 15 assists), Lee and Bogut (18 rebounds), the Warriors had two notably horrific box-score lines. Klay Thompson was 6 for 18 from the floor, 1 for 7 from beyond the arc and committed five turnovers. Harrison Barnes played 19 minutes and didn’t score.

“They are not playing well right now,” coach Mark Jackson said. “I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for them. I believe in my guys, they have had some great moments for us and they will have great moments for us, but right now they are not playing their best basketball.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks are going to shelve Ersan Ilyasova for awhile due to a sore ankle … Dennis Rodman is looking for a few good players for a pickup game in Korea. Because it’s Rodman, it would figure that it’s North Korea … Ref Eric Lewis has to be hurting a little this morning … Nice piece, if you missed it, by Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins on 28 seconds or so that flipped the 2013 NBA Finals on its head.

ICYMI Of The Night: Serge Ibaka blocks shots. That’s what he does. Even if your’re a 7-footer like Chicago’s Joakim Noah, you have to respect that. On every shot. Every shot …


VIDEO: No, Jo. And No Jo again.

Spurs Bury Past By Playing For Today


VIDEO: Charles Barkley gives credit to Spurs before joking on city of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — It’s still there, rattling around inside their heads like a ghost in the attic.

Whether you’re Danny Green willfully using the harsh memory as a painful everyday fuel or you’re Manu Ginobili trying hard to push it back into the shadows, it’s as much a part of what they take onto the court as their sneakers and jerseys.

Those 28 seconds at the end of Game 6 in the NBA Finals when the Spurs let a five-point lead over the Heat and a fifth franchise championship slip through their hands is now who they are and, maybe because of that, what they can be. Again.

They are the same old Spurs for whom the camouflage uniforms they wore against the Wizards were redundant, since nobody ever seems to notice them until they get to the end of yet another 50-win season. It’s a league record 14 in a row and counting.

These Spurs have won six straight, running their record up to 8-1, which trails only the unbeaten Pacers in a year after when it might seem natural to have a hangover.

“I’m sure it crosses everybody’s mind once in a while,” Green said. “I’m sure it gets brought up in a lot of conversations, not just with (media), but with mutual friends, family.

“This is a new year, a new season. You try to let that go, but I think it’s a good motivational tool that could keep us at it. February, March, sure. Let it keep pushing us.”

The veteran Ginobili takes the opposite approach.

“If somebody asks me, you can’t force not to remember it,” he said. “But if not, I’m just focused on … the next game and my health and the next game and trying to get better. I really don’t think about what happened last year.

“It’s something that we’re going to have in the back of our heads forever. It’s not that it’s going to leave. I still remember the semifinals I lost in 1997 with the Under-22 team (in Argentina) because it was a game like that. So it is going to stay there forever. You’re going to bring it when you need to, not on an everyday basis because it doesn’t help.”

What helps is simply getting back to the basics, getting back to what the Spurs do best, which is to play the game to their own selflessly exacting standard that comes together like a symphony.

“San Antonio runs offense perfectly,” said Wizards center Marcin Gortat. “It was like listening to Mozart. It’s just ridiculous how they play.”

What would seem insanely impossible anywhere else is that the Spurs have sprinted out of the starting gate while other would-be contenders — Grizzlies, Nets, Clippers, Rockets — stumble, all with perennial All-Star Tim Duncan struggling to find his shot.

When Duncan went 1-for-12 against the Wiz, it was the third time this season that he scored a single field goal. He is shooting 32 of 83 (.386) to open his 17th NBA season and matched his single-game career low with two points. Nevertheless, the Spurs have trailed for a total of only 11 seconds in their last four wins over Golden State, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

It has been about Tony Parker setting the pace with his scoring, passing and constantly attacking style on offense, about Green getting back his shooting stroke following a bumpy start, Kawhi Leonard continuing to bloom and Ginobili coming back healthy and confident to begin the season. The Spurs are also getting production up and down the lineup from Tiago Splitter to Marco Belinelli to Boris Diaw.

While everyone on the outside keeps looking at the calendar and the clock and thinking that the time running out on the Spurs Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili would make them lost in the fog of what got away last June, the point that’s missed is the sense of urgency they take into each season, each game, every possession at both ends of the court.

The Spurs simply keep playing the game according to the Xs and Os you would expect to see drawn up in a coach’s textbook, based on an organizational style and philosophy that is plainly demanding and with an inherent sense of responsibility to the whole.

“We don’t talk about it as a group,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “We did that the beginning of the year like we do every year. We start with the end of the season before, whoever knocked us out of the playoffs. We go through that film … We went over it in every single detail. We do it excruciatingly, honestly … We already did it, so there’s no sense doing it again.

“But you never forget that. I still remember 0.4 (when Derek Fisher’s 18-foot fadeaway for the Lakers beat San Antonio in Game 5 of the 2004 West semifinals). It goes through once every month or something.

“The Miami thing goes through my head every day. Pretty soon it will be every two days and then it will be every week and every month. That’s the way it is. Everybody remembers things good and bad. It’s not something to be dwelled on. Like I told the team, it’s just another episode in your life, one of the easier ones that you’ll face. When you think about all the things we have to face — family-wise and friends-wise and all that stuff. The things that go on in our lives, basketball, that’s a joke compared to the real stuff.”

Which is how the Spurs inch away from the past while keeping it within everything they do today.

One Team, One Stat: Three Efficient Scorers In OKC


VIDEO: OKC shines in true shooting percentage

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Finally, we look at the Oklahoma City Thunder, who led the league in point differential, but couldn’t overcome Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in the playoffs..

The basics
OKC Rank
W-L 60-22 2
Pace 95.9 10
OffRtg 110.2 2
DefRtg 99.2 4
NetRtg +11.0 1

The stat

3 - Players the Thunder had in the top 7 in true shooting percentage (minimum 500 FGA).

TS% = PTS / (2* (FGA + (0.44*FTA))).

The context

No. 1 – Kevin Durant: 64.7 percent

Durant led the league in true shooting percentage despite taking the fifth most shots in the league. LeBron James was the only player to also rank in the top 25 in both field goal attempts and true shooting percentage.

James was the better shooter from the field, but Durant was the more efficient scorer because of his ability to get to the free throw line (215 more times than James) and shoot 90 percent on all those freebies. He was the 11th player in NBA history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the line, and had the highest true shooting percentage (thanks to the highest free throw rate) of the 11.

No. 5 – Serge Ibaka: 61.2 percent
Ibaka was one of two players (Chris Bosh was the other) who ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage from both the restricted area and mid-range (where he led the league).

No. 7 – Kevin Martin: 60.8 percent
Martin is somewhat of a rare breed: a great 3-point shooter (he ranked 10th last season) who gets to the free throw line quite a bit. And he converted those free throws at the fourth-highest rate in the league.

Highest true shooting percentage, 2012-13

Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA FT% eFG% TS%
Kevin Durant 731 1,433 51.0% 139 334 41.6% 679 750 90.5% 55.9% 64.7%
LeBron James 765 1,354 56.5% 103 254 40.6% 403 535 75.3% 60.3% 64.0%
Kyle Korver 277 601 46.1% 189 414 45.7% 67 78 85.9% 61.8% 63.7%
Jose Calderon 312 635 49.1% 130 282 46.1% 72 80 90.0% 59.4% 61.6%
Serge Ibaka 446 778 57.3% 20 57 35.1% 143 191 74.9% 58.6% 61.2%
Tiago Splitter 315 563 56.0% 0 2 .0% 208 285 73.0% 56.0% 60.9%
Kevin Martin 350 778 45.0% 158 371 42.6% 219 246 89.0% 55.1% 60.8%
Carl Landry 325 602 54.0% 1 3 33.3% 223 273 81.7% 54.1% 60.5%
Martell Webster 281 636 44.2% 139 329 42.2% 168 198 84.8% 55.1% 60.1%
Danny Green 297 663 44.8% 177 413 42.9% 67 79 84.8% 58.1% 60.0%

Take those three guys and a guy who can put defenses on their heels like Russell Westbrook, and you’re going to have a very efficient offense. OKC ranked second in offensive efficiency last season, just a hair behind the Heat, who were the best shooting team (in terms of effective field goal percentage) in NBA history.

How much Martin’s departure will hurt? Yes, he was the third scorer on the Thunder, but Martin played 391 minutes without either Durant or Westbrook on the floor last season. Durant played just 44 minutes* without either Martin or Westbrook, and Westbrook played just 26 minutes without either Durant or Martin.

*He could top that in the Thunder’s first game in Utah on Wednesday.

The Thunder held their own (both offensively and defensively) in those minutes that Martin was on the floor without the two All-Stars. And don’t assume that it was mostly garbage time; 239 of the 391 minutes came before the fourth quarter.

Thunder efficiency, 2012-13

On the floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Durant + Martin + Westbrook 1,073 117.5 103.2 +14.3 +301
Durant + Westbrook, no Martin 1,546 108.4 97.2 +11.2 +311
Durant + Martin, no Westbrook 456 110.8 99.4 +11.4 +77
Martin + Westbrook, no Durant 216 106.5 100.9 +5.7 +5
Martin by himself 391 104.7 97.1 +7.7 +55
Durant by himself 44 121.3 81.6 +39.8 +32
Westbrook by himself 26 120.5 78.7 +41.8 +17

Stars win championships, but depth gets you through the regular season grind. The Thunder will need to figure out where their second-unit offense is going to come from.

Once Westbrook returns, Thunder coach Scott Brooks can stagger the minutes of his two stars, so that one or the other is always on the floor with the second unit.

Until Westbrook returns, Durant is going to have to carry a bigger load. That could mean that he averaged 35 points a game for the first month, but it also could mean that both his and the Thunder’s efficiency takes a hit.

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

One Team, One Stat: New Lineup Helped Spurs Re-establish Defensive Identity

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the San Antonio Spurs, who were seconds away from a fifth championship.

The basics
SAS Rank
W-L 58-24 3
Pace 96.4 6
OffRtg 105.9 7
DefRtg 99.2 3
NetRtg +6.8 3

The stat

87.7 - Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Spurs’ starting lineup – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter – in 364 minutes together last season.

The context

That mark was the league’s best among 58 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together and was over 15 points per 100 possessions better than the league average.

After eight years of defensive regression and two straight seasons of being ranked 11th on that end of the floor, the Spurs improved to third in defensive efficiency last season. And as beautiful as their offense has been over the last few years, it was the defensive improvement that got them back to The Finals.

San Antonio ranked sixth defensively on Dec. 23, when Gregg Popovich went to this starting lineup permanently (or at least, in games in which guys weren’t injured or resting). So they already were improved, and they basically allowed the same number of points per 100 possessions after that point (99.1) as they did before it (99.3).

But having a lineup that consistently holds opponents under 90 points per 100 possessions is a great way to start games. The new Spurs starters did just about everything well defensively.

Spurs starters defensive comparison

Lineups/league DefRtg Opp2PT% Opp3PT% DREB% OppTOV% OppFTA/FGA
New starters 87.7 42.6% 32.8% 80.9% 13.8% .148
All Spurs lineups 99.2 46.6% 35.3% 74.9% 15.3% .235
League avg. 103.1 48.3% 35.9% 73.5% 15.3% .270

OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions

The lineup didn’t force a lot of turnovers, but it defended shots at a rate that would have led the league, rebounded at a rate that would have led the league (by far), and kept opponents off the free throw line at a rate that would have led the league (by far).

Among 67 players 6-10 and taller who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season, Duncan (2.03) averaged the fourth fewest fouls per 36 minutes. Splitter (2.90) was also below that group’s average of 3.38. Roy Hibbert, aka “Mr. Verticality,” averaged 4.43.

The playoffs brought new challenges, however. After Splitter sprained his ankle in the first round, he returned for Game 2 of the conference semifinals and that Spurs lineup struggled to defend the hot-shooting, small-ball Warriors.

But San Antonio survived that series and the lineup went on to allow the Grizzlies and Heat to score a paltry 78.0 points per 100 possessions over the next eight games. Here are some defensive possessions from those two series…


Spurs playoff efficiency with Parker, Green, Leonard,
Duncan and Splitter on the floor

Opponent GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
L.A. Lakers 3 40 99.8 95.9 +3.9 +5
Golden State 4 43 96.5 110.3 -13.8 -10
Memphis 4 51 98.6 80.8 +17.8 +16
Miami 4 33 93.1 73.9 +19.3 +12
Total 15 167 97.3 90.9 +6.4 +23

The defense wasn’t enough to convince Popovich to keep the band together though. He inserted Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup for Game 5 of The Finals, a moved that helped Ginobili play his best game of the postseason and helped the Spurs get to within one win of their fifth championship. Splitter played just 23 minutes over the final three games, almost entirely as Duncan’s back-up.

Playoff series are small sample sizes and certain matchups can take what was a great lineup in the regular season and render it useless. And though that lineup defended well all year, it did struggle offensively in the postseason. The Spurs’ offense was much more efficient with an additional shooter on the floor.

But this lineup will be back on the floor to start this season. While the big three is a year older, Green (26), Leonard (22), and Splitter (28) have proven that they can pick up some of the slack. More importantly, the Spurs have reestablished themselves as a top-five defense.

If they stay relatively healthy this season, the best defensive lineup in the league could be on the floor for a lot more than 386 minutes. And that can make up for any offensive slippage.

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

Spoelstra: LeBron For DPOY!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We tossed the idea around here last week, much to the chagrin of those who absolutely adore LeBron James and those who still aren’t convinced he’s worth all the fuss.

Where can the four-time MVP improve his game at this stage of his stellar career? If there is room for the Miami Heat’s back-to-back Finals MVP’s game to continue to grow, where will that growth take place?

LeBron is already an all-court force of nature, capable of impacting games the way no one else in the league can (that includes you Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris PaulDwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and anyone else that wants in on the discussion). As great as some of these other start might be in one aspect of the game or another, not a one of them can match LeBron’s abilities in all disciplines.

That’s what makes the prospect of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra‘s Media Day challenge to James one of the most intriguing sidelights of this upcoming season.

“This year, it would be great to see him be acknowledged for the defensive work that he does,” Spoelstra said, planting the seed while at the same time saying that’s exactly what he wasn’t trying to do. “There’s no one else in the league that can do what he does. He’s been banging on that door, getting close. I don’t want it to be a campaign. It has to be earned. But he has that type of potential to be Defensive Player of the Year.”

Not since Michael Jordan has the best player in the league been this proficient on both ends of the floor. And Jordan, you could argue, played both sides as well as anyone who has ever laced up a pair of sneakers in a game in the NBA or anywhere else. James has the potential to do the same and has shown flashes of it throughout his career, particularly in the past three seasons.

Who could forget his defensive effort in The Finals in June? San Antonio Spurs big men Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan got a first hand taste of what he can do around the basket. For a man his size, his ability to defend on the perimeter is nothing short of ridiculous.

Can you imagine if LeBron was allowed to channel the majority of his energy every night into just playing shut down defense? I’m convinced he could challenge for a spot among the top 10 defensive specialists the league has seen. He’s that good, that talented and would certainly be that accomplished, if he were allowed to focus like that.

Did LeBron improve? I think it’s insulting to suggest otherwise. Since he’s been in Miami (and before) he’s come back year after year with new wrinkles to his game that require meticulous attention to detail in the gym during the offseason.

Capturing the ultimate prize, both team and individual glory, has not sapped him of his desire to tweak and improve his arsenal year after painstaking year. That’s a testament to the respect he has for those who have come before him, the folks who set the standard he’s trying to surpass and the mold he’s trying to break.

If LeBron needs any added motivation at this point of his Hall of Fame career, and I’m sure he doesn’t, let Spoelstra’s word ring in his ears night after night this season. And we’ll see if he’s capable of fueling the campaign his coach said he’s trying to avoid … “LeBron James, your 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year!”



Qualifying For ’14 World Cup Is Wide Open

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Eurobasket has just begun and we’ve already had plenty of surprises across FIBA’s regional tournaments, with teams looking to qualify for next year’s World Cup of Basketball.

In Asia, defending champion China was knocked out in the quarterfinals. In Africa, Nigeria and Tunisia — the two teams that repped the continent in last year’s Olympics — both failed to make the semis. And in the FIBA Americas tournament, Brazil lost all four of their first-round games and was sent home after blowing a 10-point, second-half lead to Jamaica on Tuesday.

Thus far, 10 teams have their tickets punched for Spain (see below). Another 10 (four from the Americas and six from Europe) will receive automatic bids in the next 17 days. Later this year, four wild-card berths will be awarded, giving teams like China and Brazil a shot.

And if Brazil is awarded a wild-card berth, they certainly have the potential to rebound from this year’s performance and make some noise at the World Cup. They have four big men in the NBA: Nene, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Vitor Faverani (signed by the Celtics this summer). But none of the four was in Caracas this week, leaving Marcelo Huertas without a competent big man to run the pick-and-roll with.

Their 0-4 performance was still a shock. Brazil gave the U.S. its toughest game at the 2010 World Championship and finished second to Argentina at the 2011 FIBA Americas tourney.

But give credit to Jamaica for it’s comeback, led by former Cav Samardo Samuels, who led all scorers with 21 points and who hit all nine of his fourth-quarter free throws. A pair of freebies by Akeem Scott won the game for Jamaica in the final seconds.

Brazil’s ouster gives Canada a better shot at one of the four automatic berths. The Canadians are without Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk, but went 3-1 in the first round. They still have some work to do, as the eight teams remaining in Caracas will play four games — Thursday through Sunday — against the teams they’ve yet to face, and after that, the top four teams in the standings will qualify for the semifinals and next year’s World Cup. Canada’s most important game could be Saturday against the Dominican Republic.

The lack of NBA players participating has made the FIBA Americas tournament wide open. And the same may hold true at Eurobasket, which tipped off Wednesday in Slovenia. With Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez on board, Spain is still the clear favorite. And France, with Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, is a lock to get one of the other top six spots.

But after that, things will get interesting. And Exhibit A is Finland’s tourney-opening victory over Turkey, the team that made a fantastic run to the gold medal game in 2010 and has a frontline of Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik.

If you need a basketball fix with another month to go before training camp, there’s plenty of international hoops for you over the next three weeks. NBA TV will have some games, and the others can be seen on ESPN3.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 FIBA Americas champion
12 FIBA Americas 2nd place
13 FIBA Americas 3rd place
14 FIBA Americas 4th place
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

Time For Parker To Settle For Some R&R?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Nobody’s telling Tony Parker to knit berets from a rocking chair for three months. But in light of this week’s second international knee scare and a cross-your-fingers MRI, perhaps it is time for some summer R&R for the All-NBA point guard.

Parker has nobly led his countrymen as team captain of the French national team since 2003 and has represented his country on the senior level since 2002, and on the junior level since 1997 (when he was 16).

Parker, 31, has a career’s worth of bumps, bruises, twists, strains and sprains that rivals the number of countries he’s competed in. His latest scare came days ago in an exhibition game preparing for next week’s FIBA European Championships. The details from the French national team were vague, but for a second time during the run-up to the tournament, Parker did something to his right knee that didn’t feel good.

The MRI came back negative and Parker declared he will be 100 percent for France’s opener against Germany. Germany’s star, Dirk Nowitzki, is forsaking the tourney to have more time to manage his right knee that required surgery last October. That doesn’t mean the game will be a cakewalk for Parker’s club — which includes Portland’s Nicolas Batum and Spurs teammates Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo. Overall, this French team is one devoid of NBA veterans, including Joakim Noah, a wounded warrior much of last season, and key cogs Ian Mahinmi and Ronny Turiaf.

No one could have blamed Parker had he graciously bowed out of the FIBA tourney considering he missed 16 games last season, scared the bejesus out of coach Gregg Popovich two weeks before the playoffs and gutted through a Grade 1 hamstring strain in the final four games of The Finals.

But when it comes to the French National team, there is no stopping Tony. He delivered France its first medal in 50 years in the 2005 European Championship and got them to the finals for the first time in 2011, followed by a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics.

And speaking of the Olympics, in a recent overseas interview, Parker said he plans to play for France through the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. At that point, he’ll be 34 and coming off a 15th NBA season.

It leads to one question with no defined answer: With meaningful international tournaments staged around the globe each summer, when, if ever, does loyalty to one’s NBA team supersede loyalty to country? The Spurs have paid Parker $95 million over 12 seasons and will pay him $12.5 million more this season.

Parker is the irreplaceable driving force behind the Spurs as Tim Duncan, 37, and Manu Ginobili, 36, hit their twilight years. Ginobili, a fixture on the Argentinian national team, is not playing in the FIBA Americas Championship after dealing with frustrating injuries last season.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long been the loudest critic among NBA owners of international competition. He bemoans that NBA teams assume all the risk when their handsomely paid players suit up for their countries. Cuban saw once-promising guard Rodrigue Beaubois, a Parker protege, break his foot during a French national team practice several years ago. Requiring two surgeries, Beaubois never bounced back, is no longer with Dallas and remains unsigned.

Two months after winning the 2011 NBA championship, Nowitzki led an inexperienced German national team into the European Championships pushing for a second consecutive OIympic bid. Germany failed to advance and Nowitzki started the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a bothersome right knee he pinned on the additional physical toll of playing that summer: “Playing in the Euros, looking back now, was obviously not the right decision, but it was a decision I made for my country,” Nowitzki said in January 2012.

Interestingly, Mavs rookie guard Gal Mekel, a star for the Israeli national team, told his coach in late July that he would not play in the European Championship. Israeli coach Arik Shivek said the Mavs strong-armed Mekel to pull out.

Even if Parker breezes through the Euro championships without another nick, the additional wear-and-tear on his body after another long season has to be concerning to the Spurs and their fans (who have seen this play out with Ginobili). A number of NBA players, some of whom dealt with health issues last season, decided to sit this summer out, with the Lakers’ Pau Gasol (Spain) and the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter (Brazil) among them.

The Spurs have signed and drafted numerous international players. The current roster boasts nine foreign players from six countries, not including Duncan, who hails from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Six are currently playing internationally.

But there’s only one Parker. And with training camp opening in less than five weeks, all of San Antonio waits stateside with bated breath. Because nobody wants to watch Parker knitting berets from the Spurs’ bench.