Posts Tagged ‘Timofey Mozgov’

Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up.

NBA.com: As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise.

NBA.com: Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.

NBA.com: You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West.

NBA.com: Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

Top 10 stat lines of 2013-14

By Jon Hartzell, for NBA.com

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Look near the benches after an NBA game, and you’ll see the floor littered with stat sheets. These white pieces of paper usually show pretty unremarkable lines and instead are used to assess the team as a whole. But on some nights, individual stat lines stand out from the rest and allow us to see who is truly outstanding.

Here are the top 10 stat lines of the 2013-14 regular season:

10. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors


VIDEO: Terrence Ross drops 51 points in a loss to the Clippers

January 25, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA) and nine rebounds

No one expected Terrence Ross to score 51 points. No one expected him to score 40. Or 30. Going in to this game against the Clippers, the second-year guard’s career high was 26 points. He shattered this mark, connecting on 10 of 17 3-pointers, which is the second-most 3-pointers made in a 50-point game in NBA history (Stephen Curry - 11, 2013). Unfortunately for the sold-out Toronto crowd, the Raptors lost to the Clippers 126-118 despite the career night from Ross.

9. Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets


VIDEO: Denver’s Timofey Mozgov nabs a 20-20 game against the Warriors

April 10, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors – 23 points (10-for-15 FG), 29 rebounds and three assists

Speaking of the unexpected … how about Timofey Mozgov? Prior to this game, Mozgov collected more than 15 rebounds just twice during his four-year career and scored more than 20 points only five times. He did both on this Thursday night to became just the third player to collect 23-plus points and rebounds and shoot 60 percent or better since 1985-86, joining distinguished big men Dikembe Mutombo and Charles Oakley. Mozgov’s career-night led the short-handed Nuggets to a 100-99 victory at Oracle Arena.

8. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant erupts for 51 points against the Raptors

March 21, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors – 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 7-for-12 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and seven assists

Kevin Durant‘s fourth-career 50-point game came during a double-overtime thriller in Toronto. Durant rallied the Thunder (who lost Russell Westbrook to injury during the third quarter) and hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in double-OT. This stat line marked his 34th straight game with 25 or more points and placed him in company with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only players to collect 50-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and seven-plus assists in a game since 1985-86 (Jordan, of course, did it twice). Durant scored 38 of those 51 points in the second half of OKC’s 119-118 win.

7. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: A red-hot Kevin Love drops in 45 points against the Clippers

December 22, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 45 points (15-for-23 FG, 13-for-15 FT), 19 rebounds and six assists

High-point, high-rebound games are nothing new for Kevin Love. The rebound machine has notched a game with 30 or more points and 15 or more rebounds 27 times in his career. This game is unique, though. His 45 points are the second-most he’s ever scored and he did it while shooting 65.2 percent. When you add in the 19 rebounds and six assists, this stat line becomes remarkable. Love is just the fourth player in the past 40 seasons to record 45-plus points, 19-plus rebounds and six-plus assists in a game and the first since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1996.  However, the Timberwolves lost 120-116 in L.A.

6. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: Corey Brewer has 51 points as the Wolves hold off the Rockets

April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets – 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FGA) and six steals

Kevin Love wasn’t the only player in Minnesota putting up monster stat lines. Corey Brewer joined the party near the end of the season with an exceptional all-around game that saw him collect 51 points and six steals. Brewer certainly benefited from the lackluster defense of James Harden to score his 51 points. But no player in the NBA is bad enough on defense to allow 50-plus points simply because of their deficiencies. Scoring outbursts like that require impressive offensive displays, no matter the defender, and Brewer provided one. He joins Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry as the only players to gather 50-plus points and six-plus steals in a game since steals became an official statistic in 1973-74. The Timberwolves defeated the Rockets 112-110.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant crosses the 30-point plateau for the 10th straight game

January 25, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 32 points (12-for-17 FG, 7-for-7 FT), 14 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals

The lone triple-double on this list was a special one for Durant. He was the first player since 1985-86 to collect 30-plus points, 14-plus rebounds, 10-plus assists and two-plus steals while shooting 70 percent or better. He did it against the hapless Sixers, yes. But this game marked Durant’s return from a shoulder injury and extended his streak of 30 or more points to 10 games. He continued this run for six more days before it was snapped against Brooklyn at 12 games. This streak is the fourth longest run of 30 or more points in NBA history and the longest since Tracy McGrady powered through 14 games in 2003. (Wilt Chamberlain‘s 65-game streak appears to be safe.) The Thunder defeated the Sixers 103-91.

4. LeBron James, Miami Heat


VIDEO: LeBron James torches the Bobcats (and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) for 61 points

March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA), seven rebounds, four assists

LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world, arguably played the best game of his career on an early-March night in Miami against Charlotte. And he wore a mask. James collected 61 points against a defensively strong Bobcats (now Hornets) squad to set a career and Heat-franchise scoring record. He set career highs for points in a quarter (25) and FGs in a game (22) and tied his career-high for 3-pointers (8).  His field goal percentage (66.7) was the highest in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal scored 60 points on 68.6 percent shooting in 2000. Think Miami will miss this guy? The Heat defeated the Bobcats 124-107.

3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony nets 62 points in a romp of the Bobcats

January 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA) and 13 rebounds

This is what happens when Carmelo Anthony is efficient. The talented scorer set a career-high, New York Knicks-high and Madison Square Garden-high with 62 points on an incredible 65.7 percent overall and 100 percent from the free-throw line. Anthony had 56 points after three quarters and added 13 rebounds just for kicks to join Jordan, Shaq, David Robinson and Karl Malone as the only players to collect 60-plus points and 13-plus rebounds since 1985-86. He also scored the most points without a turnover since turnovers were first recorded in 1977-78. Oh, and New York won 125-96.

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans


VIDEO: Anthony Davis puts up a 40-point, 21-rebound performance against the Celtics

March 16, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics – 40 points (14-for-22 FG, 12-for-12 FT), 21 rebounds and three blocks

Look at that stat line and remember, Anthony Davis is just 21. Granted, this game went into overtime, so Davis played a full 48 minutes. But Davis became the youngest player since O’Neal to record a 40-point, 20-rebound game and the fourth-youngest in history to accomplish the feat. Add in his 12-for-12 shooting from the free-throw line and three blocks and you have a stat line that has rarely been seen in NBA history. For good measure, the Pelicans won 121-120.

1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers


VIDEO: Chris Paul dominates the Warriors with an epic performance

October 31, 2013 vs. Golden State Warriors – 42 points (12-for-20 FG, 16-for-17 FT), 15 assists and six steals

Apparently, no one told Chris Paul to save his best for last. The All-Star point guard erupted for this historic stat line on Halloween, during the Clippers’ second game of the season. He’s the first player to record at least 40 points, 15 assists and 5 steals in a game since steals were first recorded in 1973-74 and joins James and Iverson as the only players to collect 40 points and 15 assists in the past 20 seasons. This remarkable night for a remarkable player should go down as the best stat line of the 2013-14 season. (And, the Clippers won, 126-115.)

Warriors miss out on prime chance to keep moving forward

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Denver knocks off Golden State with a late Kenneth Faried jumper

OAKLAND – With the opportunity to make things easy on themselves for once and a chance to clinch a playoff spot against an injury-depleted, lottery-bound opponent (on the second night of a back-to-back, no less), the Warriors wouldn’t cooperate.

They handed it all back Thursday inside Oracle Arena, every comfort zone, every opening, every ideal scenario. The Warriors got hurt bad by Wilt Chamberlain — no, wait, that was Timofey (the Dream) Mozgov — but mostly brought the 100-99 loss to the Nuggets on themselves in an embarrassing loss that stands for more than a bad night.

Golden State is a better rebounding team than Denver, but not last night. They got drilled on the boards 63-38, with Mozgov grabbing 29 on his own — the most in the league this season — to go with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and three blocks. Golden State may have been without David Lee, but Denver was down three power forwards and centers, and besides, give up 29 to Bill Russell — check that, still Timofey (the Worm) Mozgov. Suddenly, this becomes about the heart of the healthy players, not Lee’s nerve inflammation that kept him out of the lineup.

Having been off since Sunday, and basically longer since no Warrior logged more than 31 minutes in a blowout win over the Jazz, the Warriors go run off the court … by the team that played Wednesday in Denver, got to their San Francisco hotel a little after 1 a.m. Thursday and won using eight players.

The team that trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and 20 in the second (Denver) showed toughness and determination while the group that might win 50 games (Golden State) showed there should be concern about the direction.

Because of everything that happened to Golden State with the playoffs so close, capped by Denver’s Kenneth Faried dropping in an eight-footer with five-tenths of a second remaining for the win, Thursday night wasn’t about Thursday night. With choppy times behind them and four games left in the season, the Warriors were in big-picture territory as a team surprisingly lacking focus and consistency as the postseason nears.

Or, maybe not.

“I won’t co-sign that,” coach Mark Jackson countered, disagreeing with the premise. “We lost a ballgame. I won’t say that the Houston Rockets are inconsistent with their focus. They lost to the Nuggets (Wednesday) night. Mozgov, Faried hurt us. We didn’t play well. We made mistakes. We lost a ballgame. I’m not concerned. It’s part of the process. You talk about the Spurs in a game (Thursday) that they don’t have to win, they go into Dallas, a team that’s at home and playing with a sense of urgency, and the Spurs win. It’s a mentality. They (the Spurs) didn’t just get it overnight. That’s the next step for us.”

But it’s not just the Denver game. The Warriors haven’t been dependable for weeks.

“We lost to a team that played desperate, out-worked us and hurt us on the boards,” Jackson said, dodging the issue.

The two games before this were very encouraging, a 130-102 trouncing of the Jazz on Sunday and the 102-69 light workout against the Kings on Friday. That was the look of a team ready for the playoffs.

But immediately before?

A loss at San Antonio, no shame considering the opponent and the circumstances of the second night of a back-to-back.

A win at Dallas.

A loss at home to the Knicks.

A win over the Grizzlies in Oakland.

A loss to the Spurs at Oracle Arena with San Antonio finishing a back-to-back and sitting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

And before that was three wins in a row preceded by two losses in a row.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our focus,” said Draymond Green, Thursday’s starting power forward. “Nobody was complaining about our focus the last two games, when we punched everybody by 40. We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you’re playing against a team like that who doesn’t necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, and those shots start falling, you’re in for a long night. We had a chance to put them away. We didn’t and they came back to bite us.”

That was right after Stephen Curry was asked if he was worried about the backslide, the Warriors’ direction with the postseason so close, and answered, “I’m not concerned about that at all. It’s not going to waiver our confidence when it comes to what’s going to happen when we get to the playoffs. But we’ve got learn these lessons. It’s as simple as that. You can’t take off possessions, you can’t take off quarters and expect to just turn it on when you need it. For us to close out these last four games and to win a playoff series, we’re going to need every ounce of effort, energy, focus and execution going forward.”

“This is a pretty veteran team,” a reporter pointed out. “Wouldn’t you guys have learned that lesson long ago?”

“You would think so,” Curry said. “But we fought down the stretch. Obviously Faried made a great play. We probably wouldn’t be talking like this if he misses that shot. But you put yourself in that situation, you’ve got to deal with the consequences. That’s what’s going on right now.”

That’s just the pain of what happened Thursday night, though. Until the Warriors show otherwise, there’s actually a lot more going on than that.


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew sees the Warriors as a still-dangerous playoff squad

Numbers reveal four strong MIP candidates

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Kia Most Improved Player award is thought of as the most nebulous of the six major end-of-season awards and typically gets the widest range of votes. Last season, though Paul George finished with a vote total of more than twice that of any other player, 15 different players received at least one first-place vote and another 18 received at least one vote for second or third place.

But the award also lends itself to simple statistical analysis. It should be fairly simple to determine whose numbers have improved most from season to season.

If you want to get real simple, we can just compare the raw numbers, using the efficiency statistic.

Biggest increase, total efficiency

Player Season 2012-13 2013-14 Diff.
Kevin Love 6 372 2,060 1,688
Terrence Jones 2 147 1,048 901
Miles Plumlee 2 20 894 874
Andre Drummond 2 826 1,561 735
Andrew Bogut 9 418 1,103 685
Khris Middleton 2 167 836 669
Timofey Mozgov 4 174 837 663
Gerald Green 7 319 923 604
John Wall 4 949 1,511 562
James Anderson 4 180 740 560
DeAndre Jordan 6 1,079 1,638 559
Anthony Davis 2 1,167 1,705 538
Jordan Hill 5 275 810 535
Jeremy Lamb 2 48 579 531
Dirk Nowitzki 16 1,005 1,531 526
Jared Sullinger 2 454 975 521
Tony Wroten 2 84 601 517
Trevor Ariza 10 637 1,151 514
Reggie Jackson 3 465 955 490
Richard Jefferson 13 200 678 478

Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

At this point, the big question has to be asked: Should second-year players be considered for the Most Improved Player award? If not, we can eliminate several guys on the list above, though both Terrence Jones and Miles Plumlee — two starters on Western Conference playoff teams — feel like strong candidates. Only two of the top 10 in last year’s voting — Nikola Vucevic (4th) and Chandler Parsons (10th) — were second-year players.

There are also a handful of veterans on the list who missed large chunks of last season with injuries, though Kevin Love and Trevor Ariza are having the best seasons of their careers.

Timofey Mozgov and Gerald Green are interesting candidates, but were both out of their team’s rotations last season, so their improved raw numbers may also be about opportunity.

But Mozgov’s name comes up when we look at PIE improvement. PIE takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. So it adjusts for pace and there’s a team-success element to it, because if your opponent doesn’t score as many points or grab as many rebounds your individual number will be higher.

Biggest increase, PIE

2012-13 2013-14
Player Season MIN PIE MIN PIE Diff.
James Johnson 5 879 5.3% 836 11.5% 6.2%
DeMarcus Cousins 4 2,289 13.2% 1,978 18.3% 5.1%
Kevin Love 6 618 14.4% 2,438 19.4% 5.0%
Markieff Morris 3 1,837 7.5% 1,864 12.3% 4.8%
Lance Stephenson 4 2,278 8.8% 2,487 13.0% 4.2%
Kris Humphries 10 1,191 9.2% 1,272 13.3% 4.1%
Bismack Biyombo 3 2,186 6.3% 957 10.1% 3.8%
Kendall Marshall 2 702 5.8% 1,270 9.6% 3.8%
Draymond Green 2 1,061 5.1% 1,481 8.9% 3.8%
Timofey Mozgov 4 366 6.9% 1,479 10.5% 3.6%
Xavier Henry 4 625 3.9% 895 7.5% 3.6%
Patty Mills 5 656 8.2% 1,306 11.7% 3.4%
Marco Belinelli 7 1,882 7.0% 1,749 10.3% 3.3%
Avery Bradley 4 1,435 4.9% 1,602 8.1% 3.3%
Andrew Bogut 9 786 9.2% 1,661 12.5% 3.3%
Isaiah Thomas 3 2,121 10.6% 2,450 13.8% 3.2%
Anthony Davis 2 1,846 13.5% 2,248 16.6% 3.0%
Marcus Morris 3 1,524 6.7% 1,601 9.7% 3.0%
Brandon Knight 3 2,366 8.2% 2,051 11.2% 3.0%
Alec Burks 3 1,137 7.4% 1,909 10.4% 3.0%

Minimum 300 minutes in 2012-13 and 800 minutes in 2013-14

Love, Mozgov and Andrew Bogut are the only players on both lists. But Bogut had better seasons in Milwaukee and Love’s increase is just 1.0 percent over his third season in the league. Mozgov has taken a decent jump, but still isn’t a real impact player in the league.

Based on the above lists and deeper dives into the numbers, there are four non-second-year candidates that stand out.

Marco Belinelli, Spurs

Choosing between the Spurs’ two back-up guards is tough, because Patty Mills‘ play has been eye-opening. But Belinelli has had a bigger role on the league’s best team.

Belinelli’s points per game have increased from 9.6 season last season (with Chicago) only to 11.4 this year. And he averaged more than that (11.8) two seasons ago with New Orleans. But he’s having, by far, the best shooting and rebounding seasons of his career.

Among 168 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (51.9 percent last season, 70.2 percent this season) ranks second in improvement, behind only Love.

Among 139 players who have attempted at least 100 mid-range shots each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.9 percent, 44.0 percent) ranks sixth in improvement.

And among 126 players who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.7 percent, 43.7 percent) ranks fifth in improvement.

No other player is in the top 25 of all three lists, and only one (Markieff Morris) is in the top 10 of more than one. It certainly helps (quite a bit, one could argue) that Belinelli has gone from a bottom-10 offensive team last season to a top-10 offensive team this year. But he also ranks 10th in improved rebounding percentage among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

Boogie has seen a jump in both usage (USG%) and scoring efficiency (TS%). Though he’s still not a great shooter (his 49.3 effective field-goal percentage is below the league average), he has gone to the line a lot more than he ever has. He has also rebounded at a career-high rate.

Defensively, he’s not exactly Roy Hibbert or Kevin Garnett, and transition defense is a major problem. But the Kings have been almost six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Cousins on the floor. He’s a plus-62 for a team that’s 25-46.

Cousins’ teammate Isaiah Thomas seems like another good candidate and is 16th on the most-improved PIE list above. But his scoring effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage have barely budged (his 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage have gone down), and his numbers jump is mostly about an increased usage rate and a small jump in assist rate.

Markieff Morris, Suns

If you could vote for the Morris twins as one entity, that would be the clear favorite. You can’t, but Markieff (No. 11 in your programs) should be on the short list.

He’s been a much more efficient player this season, even though his usage rate has jumped quite a bit. And the Suns, who are an improved defensive team, have been better on that end of the floor with Markieff in the game.

As referenced above, he’s the ninth most improved mid-range shooter in the league and also ninth most improved in the restricted area. He’s played about the same number of minutes as he did last season and he’s gone to the line more than twice as many times.

With both Morris twins, Plumlee, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic all worthy of some consideration for Most Improved, it’s obvious that Jeff Hornacek should be in the running for Coach of the Year.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers

Like Cousins and Morris, Stephenson has seen a big jump in both usage rate and efficiency. But he’s also the most improved rebounder among 203 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons, with his rebounding percentage jumping from 7.5 percent to 11.4 percent (best among guards).

Stephenson still has some improving to do. He’s a below-average shooter from outside the paint and his turnover rate has jumped as he’s been asked to handle the ball more. But overall, he’s taken a step forward this season.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe plans to sit out All-Star Game | Ainge: Rondo, Celtics have talked extension | Mozgov’s role on the rise in Denver | Jazz legend Hundley has Altzheimer’s

No. 1: Kobe plans to sit out All-Star Game — In the final voting returns for the 2014 All-Star Game, only Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry received more votes than injured Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. Still, according to the voting totals and the set up for the All-Star Game, Bryant would be a starter in the game — if he were actually going to play. After last night’s Lakers-Heat game from Miami, Bryant told the media he will sit out the All-Star Game because of his injury-shortened season. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Having only played in six of the Los Angeles Lakers’ first 43 games this season, Kobe Bryant does not feel he is deserving of his starting All-Star bid and plans to sit out the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans.

“With all due respect to the fans that voted me in, I certainly appreciate that, they know how much I appreciate that, but you got to do the right thing as well,” Bryant said before the Lakers’ 109-102 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. “My fans know you got to reward these young guys for the work that they’ve been putting in.”

Bryant spoke to the media just minutes after the league announced the starters for the 63rd annual All-Star Game next month.

Without naming names, Bryant, 35, said that some of the league’s rising stars — Portland’s 23-year-old guard Damian Lillard (280,966 votes) and Houston’s 24-year-old James Harden (470,381 votes) come to mind — belong there more than he does.

“I think it’s important for them to go in and perform,” Bryant said. “They’ve been playing all season. They deserve to be in there. They deserve to play. So, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be out there doing their thing.”

Some Lakers likened Bryant’s selection to a kind of career achievement award.

“He’s being voted, obviously, in what he’s done in the past. Not what he’s done this year,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Bryant, sidelined since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 18 games. This is, of course, after missing the Lakers’ first 19 games because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

Bryant will be re-evaluated either Monday or Tuesday of next week when the team returns to L.A. after its current seven-game road trip, according to the Lakers. However, Bryant maintained that his examination will not occur until “February,” effectively eliminating his chances of playing Tuesday against Indiana or Jan. 31 against Charlotte.

He added that his knee injury is not being hampered by his initial Achilles tear.

“I don’t even worry about my Achilles,” said Bryant, adding he is going through vigorous exercise bike workouts to stay in shape. “It’s not even something that’s on the radar anymore. It feels great.”

He said he plans to return to the Lakers’ lineup sometime before the All-Star Game.

“It wouldn’t be enough to have me be deserving to play in the All-Star Game,” Bryant said.

The five-time champion was wary of a stipulation in the league’s collective bargaining agreement that requires elected players to perform in the All-Star Game if they are healthy enough to do so.

“If I played [for the Lakers] before [the All-Star Game], the rule is you got to go in there and play or miss the next two games,” said Bryant. “So, that just means somebody would have to lose a spot, unfortunately and the back-ups would be playing a lot, because I’d go in there and do my two minutes and sit out.”

While Bryant referenced a rule, no such rule is believed to actually be in the NBA’s handbook. A league source said that the automatic two-game suspension that Bryant referred to was “not really true.”

***

No. 2: Ainge: Celtics, Rondo have discussed extension — Point guard Rajon Rondo is finally back in the Celtics lineup after tearing his ACL nearly a year ago. The former All-Star has played in just three games this season, but Boston is well aware of what he provides them when fully healthy and on top of his game. Next season is the last season Rondo will be under contract with the Celts and team president Danny Ainge said Boston is trying to work out an extension with the guard. However, as ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg notes, an agreement on a deal likely won’t come until this summer or next:

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team has talked with point guard Rajon Rondo about a contract extension, but the restrictive nature of the collective bargaining agreement makes it more likely that talks will escalate after this season.

“We did talk to Rondo about extending him,” Ainge said Thursday during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the SportsHub. “But that’s all part of the negotiation that will happen again this summer and most likely the summer after.”

Later Ainge added, “In the collective bargaining agreement, there are limits on what can and can’t be done. Really, it’s not that Rondo doesn’t want to accept an extension, as much as it’s just not financially smart for him to accept it right now. We didn’t think he would [sign], but we did try.”

Pressed on the potential parameters of an extension, Ainge backed off, noting as he often has that he preferred not to discuss negotiations through the media and admitting, “I think we’ve said enough.”

“I think that Rondo will demand quite a bit in the open market,” Ainge said. “The competition for Rondo in free agency will be very high.”

***

No. 3: Nuggets’ Mozgov seeing role in offense increase — It’s been quite a career for Timofey Mozgov with the Denver Nuggets to say the least. Since arriving in town via the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011, Mozgov has seen his minutes and role fluctuate wildly from regular rotation player (during the 2011-12 season) to seldom-used reserve (last season). This season, however, Mozgov is tied with teammate J.J. Hickson with a team-best 5.0 close touches per game (per NBA.com/Stats), a number that puts him 25th in the NBA overall. The translation of this stats talk? When the Nuggets play in the post, it is likely going to Mozgov first. And, as Nuggets coach Brian Shaw tells Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, that’s a trend that’s likely to increase.

Mozgov is Denver’s most improved player. Going into Thursday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the 7-footer was averaging career highs in points (8.7), rebounds (6.0) and blocked shots (1.2). He was shooting 55.8 percent from the field, another career high.

A lot of what he’s done has been done in the low post, and that’s what has caught the attention of coach Brian Shaw, who wants the Nuggets to play inside-out offense.

“We’ve had to evolve into getting away from that,” Shaw said. “We’re actually going to come back around to getting the ball inside, because what’s been a pleasant surprise has been Timo inside. When we do get the ball inside to him, he’s shown the ability to finish and do things with it, with his back to the basket.

“So, particularly for him, we’re starting to diagram, dial in more things for him to get touches and use his size and shooting ability inside to our advantage.”

***

No. 4: Legendary Jazz announcer Hundley suffering from Alzheimer’sBefore they were the Utah Jazz, the franchise had its beginning as the New Orleans Jazz in 1974. From those early days with Pete Maravich and Truck Robinson as the stars, to the golden age of Jazz hoops with John Stockton and Karl Malone on through to the Deron Williams-Carlos Boozer-era squads of the late-2000s, one man served as the Jazz’s play-by-play voice: Rod “Hot Rod” Hundley. The Hall of Fame broadcaster stepped down from his role after the 2008-09 season and has been mostly reclusive since then. But some sad news today via The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Steve Luhm that the announcer is now suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease:

Rod Hundley, the iconic former broadcaster for the Utah Jazz, is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Hundley, 79, lives in Arizona with his partner, Kim Reardon. She told The Salt Lake Tribune this week that the disease has progressed to a “moderate” stage.

Hundley no longer speaks to large groups, Reardon said. But they plan to attend festivities in Utah next week, when the Jazz will honor former coach Jerry Sloan.

He started as the TV and radio voice of the expansion New Orleans Jazz in 1974 after working for the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and CBS.

In 1979, Hundley followed the team to Utah, where he became one of the most recognizable faces of the franchise for the next three decades.

Hundley handed over his TV duties to current play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack prior to the 2005-06 season. But he remained on the radio for another four years.


VIDEO: Rod Hundley talks with NBA TV in 2009 as his career with the Jazz nears its end

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mark Cuban is convinced the Mavs are worth at least a billion dollars … Native Wisconsinite Caron Butler says he wants to be a long-term part of the Bucks’ rebuild … Great read about Magic center Nikola Vucevic and his experience during a train crash in Montenegro eight years ago that killed 47 people … Which team is the third-best squad in the East? … Clippers forward Antawn Jamison brought the boys basketball team from his old, Charlotte-area high school to the Clips-Bobcats game

ICYMI of The Night: We like a strong take to the rim around here as much as anyone, and Damian Lillard certainly provided that last night against Denver. But what we like even better? Multiple views of a monster jam like Lillard’s:


VIDEO: Get an all-angles view of Damian Lillard’s monster dunk on the Nuggets

Hickson’s Flexibility Vital To Hot Nuggets


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson finishes off the Randy Foye lob with force

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA hands out end-of-year awards for just about everything, so why not an MAP award?

Most Adaptable Player.

If such an honor existed, the Denver Nuggets’ 6-foot-9 starting center J.J. Hickson would (again) be a leading candidate. While undersized for the position, he played it all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers and had a breakout year offensively, averaging a double-double (12.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg).

A free agent in the offseason, he signed with Denver where the talented-but yet-to-put-it-all-together 7-footer JaVale McGee was hyped as the starting center and 7-foot-1 free-agent Timofey Mozgov re-signed, too. That meant the bruising, 242-pound Hickson could return to his more natural position of power forward, albeit behind entrenched starter Kenneth Faried, and get back to battling guys more his size.

Here’s what Hickson told me back in February about playing center for the Blazers and what it meant for his impending free agency:

“The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team, and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the ‘5’ to help us get wins.”

In July, Hickson, 25, signed a three-year, $16.1 million contract with the Nuggets. Five games into the season, McGee went down with a stress fracture to his leg and remains out indefinitely. First-year coach Brian Shaw could have picked Mozgov as the traditional choice to start in Shaw’s inside-first offense. But Shaw chose Hickson.

“Some things never change it feels like,” Hickson said of starting at center again. “History does tend to repeat itself at times. I’m doing whatever it takes to win games and if it means playing center, that’s what I’ll do.”

Hickson said Shaw came to him and simply told him, “You’re starting at center.”

“Ever since that day, I accepted the challenge,” Hickson said.

Since Hickson took over at center, the Nuggets (13-8) have won 12 of 16 games following a rough 1-4 start that had critics of the franchise’s sudden overhaul — specifically the firing of longtime coach George Karl — shouting told-you-so.

Hickson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. He’s produced five double-doubles in his last 16 games — including an 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Oklahoma City — plus six more games with at least eight rebounds. As the starting center, he’s averaging 12.1 ppg on 51.9 percent shooting and 8.5 rpg in 25.6 mpg.

Without All-Star-caliber point guard Ty Lawson in the lineup the last two games due to a hamstring injury, the Nuggets won both to finish their six-game all-Eastern Conference road swing 4-2. Hickson combined for 21 points on 50 percent shooting and 18 rebounds in the two games while essentially splitting time with Mozgov.

“After every game, every practice I feel we’re jelling more and more and we trust each other more on the court,” Hickson said prior to the trip. “We’re playing together, we’re having fun, we’re learning how to close out games. Just the camaraderie amongst each other is great.”

Initially, Hickson’s signing in Denver seemed curious because it seemed to mean his accepting a bench role behind Faried. But the Nuggets needed additional frontline toughness and Hickson is happy to deliver. He won’t earn votes for the All-Defensive team, but he’s also not the turnstile the advanced stats crowd makes him out to be. Part of it is simply that Hickson is undersized and out of position practically every game.

Until McGee returns, Hickson is likely to continue to start in the middle. And even then, it’s not like McGee was tearing it up before his injury. Shaw saw fit to play McGee just 15.8 mpg as the starter, fewer minutes than even Karl — hardly McGee’s biggest fan — could stand bringing him off the bench.

When McGee eventually does work himself back into the starting lineup, it will at least provide the opportunity for Hickson to return to power forward. Not that he won’t keep fighting to stay in the starting lineup, no matter the position.

“I’d be lying if I said I came here to play backup, but that’s competition,” Hickson said. “That’s still to be determined and we’ll cross that road when we get there.”

Until then, Hickson will just keep adapting.

McGee’s Injury Adds To Denver’s Woe

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – JaVale McGee‘s hope-filled season started poorly and has taken a sharp turn for the worse. McGee is out indefinitely with a fracture to his left shin, the team announced Sunday.

This season was supposed to be something of a new start for the 7-foot center renowned more for his goofiness than his contributions in his five previous seasons, three-and-a-half spent with the Washington Wizards before getting traded to Denver.

Under rookie head coach Brian Shaw, McGee expected to take over as the starter, and he did, and figured to be a focal point of an offense that was turning more traditional coming out of George Karl’s up-tempo attack. But McGee’s minutes didn’t rise; they dipped to lower levels than under former coach George Karl, just 15.8 mpg. He was averaging 7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.4 bpg.

His struggles have mirrored the team’s lackluster performances leading to a 1-4 record coming off last season’s franchise-record 57 victories. Before training camp commenced, McGee, who dealt with left shin pain last season, was as juiced for this season as any previous year. He was determined to be taken seriously as a difference-making center.

“I feel like I’m extremely athletic, extremely fast, extremely agile for being a 7-foot big man and just need the right people behind me to be able to bring what has to come out to be a dominant center in the league,” McGee told NBA.com in September. “There’s a lot of things that haven’t even been [brought out] of my game that people haven’t even seen. So I just feel like this is going to be the season.

“It’s really up to the coach as to how he wants to use me. It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

Apparently Shaw wasn’t seeing what he wanted from the big man. Because McGee wasn’t playing much, perhaps his loss won’t be as costly as it might have been if he had gotten off to the start he had hoped. Shaw told reporters he’ll either start Timofey Mozgov or undersized J.J. Hickson, the 6-foot-9 power forward who played out of position in the middle all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Denver plays at winless Utah on Monday and returns home Wednesday to play the Los Angeles Lakers.

That McGee got off to such a slow start is discouraging for his future with a franchise that gave him a $44 million extension in the summer of 2012. Only 25, McGee has long been considered a talent just waiting to break out, yet is constantly sabotaged by errors or buffoonery of his own creation. He has enticing offensive skills on the block and is an excellent shot blocker, but he has never been able to put together a full repertoire and execute it.

Last season, Karl was asked why McGee couldn’t crack 18 mpg. Karl simply simply said he didn’t deserve more. Shaw apparently didn’t need to see much to be in agreement. Now McGee will sit idle as he waits for his shin to heal.

The transitioning Nuggets, meanwhile, will try to figure out how to string together consistent efforts with a roster still missing its top two forwards, Danilo Galinari, who continues to rehab from ACL surgery and Wilson Chandler, who has yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury.

McGee’s injury only adds to his personal frustration and the team’s growing challenge.

Griffin, Clippers Retire Lob City



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Those critics who claimed the Los Angeles Clippers were all style and no substance last season will have to find something else to nit-pick about the reigning Pacific Division champions.

Because “Lob City” is finished. No more. History.

One of the central figures in the movement, Clippers All-Star dunk machine Blake Griffin, has declared it D.O.A. under coach Doc Rivers. The new coach is all about substance in his effort to take the Clips from an exciting, playoff-regular group to an actual championship contender. With a new, defensive-minded focus and significant shift in how they’ll play on offense, there is simply no room for the flash that was Lob City, as Griffin detailed to ESPN’s Shelly Smith:

“Lob City doesn’t exist anymore. Lob City is done. We’re moving on and we’re going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City.”

The fun police can blame Rivers. He won’t mind. As long as his team is grinding on both ends and playing up to its potential, he’ll be pleased. Fans who had grown accustomed to the “Lob City” mentality, though, will need time to adjust. I know I will after enjoying Griffin and DeAndre Jordan‘s slam-dunk finishes off tosses from Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford the past couple of seasons.

But it’s a necessary change, Griffin said, for the greater good:

“Our offense is going to have a totally different look this year,” said Griffin, who added that he’d done a lot of work in the offseason on his face-up game from 10 to 15 feet. “Our offense is going to have a lot of movement and floor spacing. I’m looking forward to it.”

Of course, not everyone will feel the same way about the end of Lob City.

Griffin, the 2010 NBA Slam Dunk champion, said he gets that.

“People will still wear T-shirts,” Griffin said. “I can’t really go to people’s houses and take their T-shirts and cut them up. But we [will] have a new identity as a team and that’s going to be what we work out during training camp.

“We’ll take about two or three weeks and really come up with something good.”

This news will be greeted with smiles by guys like Brandon Knight, Kendrick Perkins, Timofey Mozgov and countless others who have found themselves on the wrong end a highlight from an encounter with the Clippers.

R.I.P. “Lob City” … it was fun while it lasted!

Restricted Free Agents Pekovic, Jennings, Teague (And Others) Wait Their Turns

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The oxymorons of the NBA offseason – restricted-yet-free agents – yielded most of the spotlight to the bigger and freer names through the first week of July or so. But with fellows such as Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala and more reaching agreements on new deals, those tethered to their incumbent teams will get more run now.

It’s not exactly garbage time. Last summer, nine of the top RFAsRoy Hibbert, Eric Gordon, Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson, George Hill, Nicolas Batum, Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields – landed deals worth a total of $366.4 million. On a per-season basis, their salaries over three to five years averaged $10.8 million.

That’s not far from where this year’s RFA market sat after its two highest-profile commitments: Tyreke Evans to New Orleans’ four-year, $44 million offer sheet and Tiago Splitter four years and $36 million to stick with San Antonio. But that’s a small sample size, with the likes of Nikola Pekovic, Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague, Gerald Henderson, Timofey Mozgov and several others still with business pending.

The dynamics of restricted free agency clearly are different from those in play for the truly free. The chilling effect that an incumbent team can have on its guy’s options is considerable, simply by pointing out to one and all its intention to match any offer. And yet, a team that expresses too much love can drive up an RFA’s price, leading rivals to touch up their offer sheets in the hopes that overpaying might pry him loose.

There are other risks. Teague, for instance, was said to be growing impatient in recent days, frustrated by what might be perceived as the Atlanta Hawks’ lack of urgency in pursuing a deal, when all it really is is Atlanta letting the market play out. There really should be no harm in that, unless the guy’s feelings get hurt at what he mistakes as an absence of pro-active negotiations.

The three-day period incumbent teams get to match or not on RFAs doesn’t stymie a club’s offseason strategy quite the way the old seven-day decision period used to. But it still can hang up a team to have cap space committed, at precisely the wrong time, to an offer sheet that goes nowhere.

Fans get antsy with restricted free-agency, too, waiting for updates on players who often loom large in their current teams’ plans. Yet there they sit “on the market” longer than seems comfortable. (We’re talking days, not weeks, but everyone’s shelf life/attention span is sped up these days.)

Oh, and woe to the players who try to assist the process by professing love for a new market — as Gordon and Batum did last summer — or some disdain for an old one, thinking that might tilt the process and short-circuit the “restricted” label in front of their status. That rarely, if ever, changes a team’s business decision, but it does risk bad blood while accomplishing nothing positive.

So it probably is a good thing that Pekovic, Jennings, Teague and the rest — and their representatives and their teams — have mostly stayed mum to this point. They’ll get theirs sooner or later, almost certainly in the next week or two.

And even if they don’t, the option of playing for one year on a qualifying offer, with its no-trade provision, wouldn’t seem to be the worst thing. That would turn a 2013 RFA into a 2014 UFA, with a heavy list of teams looking to rebuild, improve their draft chances, shed salaries and open cap space.

The buzz around some RFAs, however, is beginning. Minnesota apparently tried to pre-empt any head-turning overtures from outside teams, putting together a formal offer to Pekovic on Friday, according to Timberwolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda:

As of Sunday, he is not believed to have been offered [a competing] deal and the number of teams who have the cap space and desire to sign him had dwindled to one or two.

Pekovic repeatedly last season said he wanted to return to Minnesota, and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders has said all along that he believes the two sides will reach a deal.

The price might rise to $11 million to $12 million per year for four years, insiders have estimated. Specifics of the Wolves’ offer weren’t known.

Then there was the prospect of Jennings and Teague having their negotiations settled almost in an old-fashioned, non-free agent way: If the two point guards were signed and traded for each other, would it even seem like they were free agents?

That’s a scenario reported by ESPN.com’s Mark Stein, driven at least in part by former Hawks coach Larry Drew’s familiarity with Teague. Such a move, coincidentally, could have a ripple effect on Jennings’ backcourt mate in Milwaukee, Monta Ellis, who opted-out of an $11 million salary for 2013-14 in hopes of doing better, longer, in a multi-year deal.

ESPN.com reported early in free agency that the Bucks, at Drew’s behest, had interest.

If those sign-and-trade talks progress to the serious stage, sources said, Atlanta would inevitably have to rescind its long-standing interest in Ellis, knowing he and Jennings realistically couldn’t play together again given how poorly they functioned as a backcourt duo in Milwaukee last season.

As for other notable RFAs, Charlotte’s Henderson is a solid two-way player who likely will be affordable, Denver’s Mozgov might wind up with Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia on a four-year offer and Gary Neal may have gotten bumped off San Antonio’s depth chart with the Spurs’ signing of veteran Marco Belinelli.

Hot List: Top 10 Restricted Free Agents





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Unlike their unrestricted free agent peers, this summer won’t be the fresh start some of this summer’s most notable restricted free agents are hoping for.

Their current teams have the right to match any offers they receive, meaning that the lucrative, long-term deal some of these guys are looking for might come with strings attached. Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks plays a marquee position in a market that doesn’t seem to fit his persona or personality.

He turned down a $40 million extension in the fall, making clear his intention to push for a bigger deal or an eventual departure — he could play the 2013-14 season on a qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2014 — from Fear The Deer territory.

As always, Jennings isn’t the only restricted free agent of note this summer. The full list of them can be found on our handy-dandy Free Agent Tracker.

Jennings is the headliner on the Top 10 Restricted Free Agents list, but hardly the only notable name …

Brandon Jennings, G, Milwaukee Bucks

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: A first-team All-Rookie pick in 2010, Jennings solidified his credentials as a starting point guard in four seasons with the Bucks. He started 289 of the 291 games he played in and helped guide the Bucks to the playoff twice in his first four seasons. A big time scorer, Jennings has the charisma and personality to help you win games and sell tickets.
What he’s not saying: He’s still barely 170 pounds soaking wet. There are still some front office types who think he’s more of a poor man’s Allen Iverson instead of the young Mike Conley they hoped he might be at this stage of his career.
What he’s worth: Jennings believes he’s worth every penny of a max deal somewhere. Remember, he famously boasted that he was better than Ricky Rubio and has gone about the business of trying to prove as much night in and night out. But a max deal is out of the question in Milwaukee and probably anywhere else. The Bucks aren’t going to bid against themselves for a player who has made it clear that he is interested in playing in a bigger market. He’s already turned down a four-year offer with $40 million, making it clear that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and let the market set his value.
Likely landing spot(s): The Bucks have the right to match any offers. Any interested teams know that all they have to do is wait this situation out and pursue Jennings in the free-agent summer of 2014.

Jeff Teague, G, Atlanta Hawks

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: Teague is coming off of his best season as a pro, having averaged career highs in points (14.6) and assists (7.2) while asserting himself as a true lead guard for a playoff team. He’s only scratched the surface of his potential and, at 24, is still young enough to project major upside in the coming years.
What he’s not saying: Teague is not a great defender at what is easily the deepest position in the league. And his assist numbers (3.0) in 29 career playoff games suggest that he might not be on track to become the elite facilitator a team needs in a point guard.
What he’s worth: The Hawks didn’t do him any favors by not even offering him an extension on his rookie contract before the Halloween deadline. Making that pill even tougher to swallow for Teague is the fact that the two point guards drafted directly ahead of him in 2009, Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday ($10 million a year) and Ty Lawson ($12 million a year), both agreed to terms on four-year deals at the deadline. If they’ve set the bar — Holiday blossomed into an All-Star this season while Lawson had an equally strong case but missed out in a deep crop of Western Conference point guards — Teague is in a tough negotiating spot with the Hawks.
Likely landing spot(s): Teague needs a team desperate for a young point guard to present an offer sheet that exceeds what the Hawks might be willing to pay (anything near $10 million a year would be a bit of a shock). Utah is still searching for a long-term answer at point guard and could poke around and see if the Hawks will let Teague walk. But the Hawks are likely to keep him on a qualifying offer and he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Tyreke Evans, G, Sacramento Kings

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: A Rookie of the Year and at one time considered the future face of the franchise in Sacramento, Evans averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his first season. A super-sized point guard, he used his size and skill to his advantage in that role with the Kings. He’s most definitely selling the Tyreke Evans we all saw his rookie season.
What he’s not saying: While he didn’t experience the steep statistical drop off in his next three seasons, Evans is fighting the perception that he bottomed out during those three seasons. The Kings certainly seem to have moved on from Evans being a franchise cornerstone during these past three seasons, hence the absence of an extension offer. Isaiah Thomas supplanted him at point guard and Evans has played out of position ever since.
What he’s worth: This is where things get tricky for Evans, because some team with cap space to work with is going to eyeball Evans and remember that he’s a 6-foot-6, 220-pound combo guard with an ability to run a team and calculate the risk of snatching him away from an uncertain situation with the Kings. If Darko Milicic got $20 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves, someone has to be willing to offer Evans a similar deal.
Likely landing spot(s): Dallas and Atlanta are both in full-blown roster-rebuild mode and could use a talent like Evans at a reasonable price to help get things rolling. He could be the steal of the summer if someone makes a play for him and waits to see if the Kings will match the offer or let him walk.

Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: With the eternal premium on productive big men, Pekovic showed flashes of being an absolute nightmare in the low post for opposing teams. A 7-foot, 300-pound block of granite, Pekovic averaged 16.3 ppg and 8.8 rpg last season and held it down in the Timberwolves’ frontcourt without Kevin Love available for the majority of the season. He’s got a size/skill-set combination that makes him a rarity in a league that treasures big men who can play high impact basketball on both ends of the floor.
What he’s not saying: The only problem with Pekovic is the 174-game sample size teams have to work with in evaluating the upside of a big man who is 26 and perhaps already deeper into his physical prime than you want a third-year player to be.
What he’s worth: The Houston Rockets used a three-year, $25 million offer sheet to pry Omer Asik away from the Chicago Bulls last summer. An offer like that could work similar wonders for someone trying to slip into the Twin Cities and sneak out with a starting center.
Likely landing spot(s): Minnesota can’t afford to let him walk, not with the regime change and whatever other roster changes Flip Saunders and his new crew have in store. Plus, Pekovic has become a cult favorite in Minneapolis.

Tiago Splitter, F/C, San Antonio Spurs

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent.
What he’s selling: A three-year apprenticeship under the great Tim Duncan can’t be a bad place for a big man to start when resume building. Splitter’s third NBA season turned out to be the charm, as he finally showed some signs of being the low-post factor he was billed as when the Spurs made him their top Draft pick in 2007. The Brazilian big man finally earned a regular spot in Gregg Popovich‘s rotation, another sign and seal of approval, averaging career highs in points (10.3), rebounds (6.4) and minutes (24.7). He made 58 starts this season, 52 more than he did in the two previous season combined.
What he’s not saying: Those previous two seasons mentioned were less than stellar. Splitter has ideal size for a NBA big man but didn’t leave a large footprint early on, the transition from Spanish League MVP to NBA regular being much tougher than anyone anticipated for him.
What he’s worth: Like almost every skilled big man, Splitter is going to be worth more than a man half his size with better credentials. That’s just the way things work in this league. He’s due for a significant raise from the $3.9 million he’s earning this season. In fact, he should have no trouble doubling that in a free agent market (for unrestricted and restricted free agents) that is relatively light on centers.
Likely landing spots: The Spurs have the right of first refusal and will exercise that right if the offers come in at the right number. But Dallas and Atlanta have to have him on their short lists, with several other teams focusing in on him early on in the process.

THE NEXT FIVE: Gerald Henderson, Charlotte; Darren Collison, Dallas; Timofey Mozgov, Denver; Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana; Chase Budinger, Minnesota.