Posts Tagged ‘Timofey Mozgov’

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.


Kirilenko Invaluable To Wolves, Shved

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DALLAS – Andrei Kirilenko has been a godsend to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Russian rookie Alexey Shved during this strange twist of a season.

It’s a minor miracle that the Wolves are still sniffing playoff contention considering their barrage of injuries. One major reason is Kirilenko, the 11-year NBA veteran who is in his first season with the Wolves after a decade-long run with the Utah Jazz. He spent the 2011-12 season enjoying a one-time homecoming in Russia, playing before family and friends during the NBA’s lockout and shortened season.

The versatile, 6-foot-9 forward was always going to figure in as a major piece to the rotation, but he’s been invaluable in the wake of long-term injuries to forwards Chase Budinger and Kevin Love, among multiple other injuries such as to Brandon Roy and Malcolm Lee that have thrust the surprising Shved into a starter’s role at shooting guard.

“We had some seasons when we had a lot of injuries, but this is something crazy,” said Kirilenko, whose scoring (13.4 ppg), rebounds (6.8) and minutes (34.8) are all his best since the 2005-06, and his 50.8 shooting percentage ranks as a career high. “We never played together [with a full roster] for even one game. It’s tough to play that way, but I guess this is the reality of NBA basketball.”

Then there’s been the big brother role Kirilenko’s embraced mentoring Shved, who turned 24 last month. But with a baby face and a mouth full of braces, some might say Shved could could pass for, well, a 12-year-old. Which is exactly how old he was when he first met Kirilenko and asked Russia’s No. 1 basketball player to sign a picture for him.

“He’s a great guy and he has a lot of bright moments in front of him,” said Kirilenko, who turns 32 next month and beams at Shved more like a proud papa than a big brother. “I think he started the season well and he can really be a great contributor to a team.”

Two-thirds of Russia’s NBA contingent play for the Wolves. Timofey Mozgov, currently buried on the Denver Nuggets’ bench, is the other. Kirilenko and Shved know each other quite well now after playing last season together for CSKA Moscow, and the two fashioned quite a dynamic duo on the Russian Olympic team that put hoops back on the map in their country by taking bronze in London.

They were gearing up for the Games when Shved, signed as a free agent by Minnesota in July, got word that he would continue on as Kirilenko’s teammate in Minnesota.

“He is the best player in Russia,” said the 6-foot-6 Shved, whose game (10.8 ppg and 4.7 apg) has emerged quicker than his grasp of the English language, which he speaks softly and carefully. “He is smart, he plays hard. Everybody wants to be a player like this.”

Just as Spanish-speaking J.J. Barea (from Puerto Rico) aided the Spain-born phenom Ricky Rubio last season in his arrival stateside, having Kirilenko around to show Shved the ropes of the NBA and American life has been invaluable.

And who knows, perhaps soon Shved will serve a similar role to another wide-eyed countryman that makes his way to the NBA.

Sergey Karasev might be the next [one],” Kirilenko said of the 6-foot-7, 19-year-old shooting guard who averages 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds for Triumph Lyubertsy in the Russian Professional Basketball League. “He might be joining us soon.”

Is This The Year Of The Dragic?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For NBA players who reside outside of the superstar city limits of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and their kind, the chance for stardom is more complex than just strapping on a jersey and someone turning the arena lights on.

Taking that step from player to star player requires not only the desire to be great but also the space and opportunity to do so, the right team at the right time, etc.

(See Jeremy Lin for further reference …)

Those roads will intersect for many during the 2012-13 season. Some will seize the moment and embrace their revised roles and others will miss the opportunity to move up the league food chain. It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle that we love to observe, if only to see which budding stars rise to the occasion.

One player with all of the pieces in place for that breakout season is Suns point guard Goran Dragic, who has a window between the end of the Steve Nash era and rookie Kendall Marshall‘s formative years, to make the case that the flashes of greatness we’ve seen from him in the past are more than just momentary bursts of greatness.

Dragic has clearly done the hard work (check the video, above … and yes, we’ll talk with him about getting us a pair of those shorts later) necessary to become the sort of player he, and so many other who have championed his cause over the years, believe he can be. Opportunity is banging on his door something fierce.

We’ll find out soon if he’s as ready as he appears to be, because if not …. there are plenty of other guys willing and waiting for their chance to pounce.

FIVE GUYS TO WATCH IN 2012-13

In addition to Dragic, these are the other guys on HT’s list of potential breakout stars this season:

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