Posts Tagged ‘Tyreke Evans’

Rivers Finding Way On Winding Journey


VIDEO: Pelicans at Mavericks, Jan. 11, 2014

DALLAS – Austin Rivers, son of Doc, has found it more difficult than perhaps expected to make a name for himself in the NBA. Maybe that’s about to change.

Since New Orleans selected Rivers — some would say reached — with the 10th overall pick in 2012, the one-and-done Duke product has had a rocky indoctrination. He was thrust into the starting lineup early on and struggled, then was knocked out of the last quarter of his rookie season by a hand injury. He has spent his sophomore campaign so far largely riding the pine behind a recast backcourt of Jrue Holiday, Eric GordonTyreke Evans and even the undrafted Brian Roberts .

Austin Rivers (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Austin Rivers
(Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

But as it goes in the NBA, things change quickly. Injuries to Holiday, Evans and 3-point-shooting power forward Ryan Anderson are drastically reshaping the Pelicans’ rotation. Suddenly the little-used Rivers is getting his shot for a team dangerously close to being out of playoff contention and dragging a five-game losing streak into Monday’s home game against San Antonio (8 p.m. ET, League Pass).

“The mindset in the locker room right now is if we play hard we can win,” Rivers said. “You look at teams right now like the Phoenix Suns, they don’t have superstar players, but they play hard, they play hard the whole game and they trust their system and they play the same way every night. And because of that they’re one of the better teams in the league, which no one could have called at the beginning of the year, and that’s because guys stepped up, and that’s what we need to do. We have more than enough talent and skill to do that.”

Rivers hopes to be a significant piece of the equation. He’s played in just 24 of 36 games, averaging  just 13.3 minutes per game, 10 minutes off his rookie average when he started 26 of 61 games. His shooting percentages have remained stagnant, below 40 percent overall and around 32 percent from beyond the arc. Playing so little makes it difficult to develop any rhythm, but questions linger about the 6-foot-4 combo guard: Beyond an ability to get to the rim, is he NBA material?

Rivers, 21, said he examined that question daily during the offseason, and at times with his dad, former NBA guard and Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

“We looked at things and I had to look at myself and think about what I was doing good and what I was doing bad,” Rivers said. “The main thing was, it’s funny, the thing that I wasn’t doing was being myself. I was going out there and trying to live up to this or trying to be everything I wasn’t instead of being what got me here, which is not like me. That was my biggest focus. Some second-year guys do Summer League, some guys don’t; I was adamant about doing it because I wanted to go out there and show that I’m back to being me. That’s what I did. And then we just had a lot of trades where I had to sit out and wait, and now it’s my time.”

In the two games since Holiday was ruled out indefinitely with a fractured ankle, Rivers logged 25 and 23 minutes. He had played more minutes just once all season. In the first game, he aggressively attacked, tying his second-best scoring output of the season with 12 points, and adding a season-high  four assists. He had nine points and four assists in Saturday’s second of back-to-back losses to Dallas.

In the latter game he also discovered that having a famous basketball surname means little when it comes to getting the benefit of a whistle. Rivers was being closely checked by Mavericks guard Monta Ellis above the 3-point arc as the game clock ticked down. The Pelicans needed a 3-pointer to tie. Rivers’ ballhandling was sloppy, but he regrouped. And as he tried to rise up for the shot, Ellis raked him across the arms. No call. Game over. The following day the league office ruled a foul should have been called and Rivers should have gone to the free-throw line for three shots and a chance to tie.

Tough lesson. Seems Rivers’ brief career already has been full of them.

“Everybody has different paths and that’s something that took me a while to figure that out,” Rivers said. “At first [not playing] was just frustrating … [but] that doesn’t do anything because at the end of the day I’m here, and I’m glad I’m here because I think this is all going to make me better in the long run. I like where I’m at with my teammates and my coaches and I think four or five years down the road from now I’ll be able to look back and be like, ‘I remember that time when guys were asking me how did you feel about this and that,’ and now I’m here.

“I know this is all a process, and I know if I continue to work like I know I do and to listen to the coaches and older guys I’ll be fine. But it’s funny how it works like this — one minute I’m like, ‘Man…,’ and now I’m playing a lot.”

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers again weigh Pau Gasol trade | Lowry talks continue | Shaw may change Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Lakers again weigh Pau Gasol trade — The Los Angeles Lakers want to see what they have now that Kobe Bryant is healthy and haven’t eliminated the possibility of re-signing Pau Gasol when he’s a free agent next summer, but if the big man is going to continue pouting about his role under Mike D’Antoni, they may have no choice but to see what they can get for him. Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN write that the time to take calls may be coming soon:

The Los Angeles Lakers prefer to keep struggling center Pau Gasol and believe he eventually will have success in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, but his recent comments and subpar play have caused them to begin weighing whether to make him available before the NBA’s annual trade deadline in February, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

The Lakers have yet to engage in any Gasol-related trade discussions with other teams, sources told ESPN.com. But Gasol’s recent comments about his frustrations with his role in the Lakers’ offense, his impending free agency, and his struggles offensively and particularly defensively have essentially forced the team to consider its options.

Gasol had something of a bounce-back game in Friday’s 122-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and made a point of saying that “you always have to make yourself responsible” for your own play and that “when you start pointing fingers at other sides or other directions, you’re making a mistake.”

***

No. 2: Knicks executives pushing owner Jim Dolan to do deal for Kyle Lowry — If the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are both bidding for Kyle Lowry, that’s probably good news for Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who got a nice haul for Carmelo Anthony when he pitted the same two teams against each other in 2011. Yahoo‘s Adrian Wojnarowski breaks down what’s on the table from both teams:

As New York Knicks executives work to convince owner Jim Dolan he should ignore public criticism and complete a deal for Kyle Lowry, the Brooklyn Nets are gaining traction as a possible destination for the Toronto Raptors point guard, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks are desperate for a point guard, and their front office had a deal together that would’ve sent Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and a 2018 first-round pick for Lowry.
The Knicks’ front office is determined to re-enter talks on Lowry, league sources said, but it is unclear how they will try to amend a trade package – or whether they’re willing to return the original offer to the table. Without the future first-round pick, there’s little chance of the Knicks landing Lowry, sources said.

The Golden State Warriors also have remained involved in talks with Toronto on Lowry, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Dolan became livid over the public disclosure of the deal terms and became aware over some segments of reaction that deemed the package a third straight debacle in dealing with Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, sources said.

Ujiri, the NBA’s Executive of the Year with the Denver Nuggets a year ago, negotiated deals that brought the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani in recent years.

***

No. 3: Could changes be coming to the Nuggets starting five?The Denver Nuggets play absolutely atrocious defense at the start of games, allowing 123 points per 100 possessions in the first six minutes of the first quarter. Their struggles continued on Friday, allowing the Jazz to score 18 points in the first 4:33. So yeah, as Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post writes, Brian Shaw is thinking about making a lineup change:

The Nuggets have a recurring problem: Bad starts. Slow starts, whatever you want to call it, they aren’t getting out of the gate with any kind of urgency much of the time. On Friday, Utah scored 33 points on 54 percent shooting (85 percent from the 3-point line) in the first quarter, the latest in a lengthening line of irritating starts.

So Shaw is now on to this: Considering a shakeup in the starting lineup.

Whether it actually happens remains to be seen, and maybe he cools down and rethinks the whole concept overnight after his team’s 103-93 loss to Utah on Friday. But switching out some starters is a card he’s as ready to play as he’s ever been.

“Continuing to give up those big quarters is not going to get it done for us,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if I have to shake it up or what I have to do with that starting lineup. But the chemistry, for whatever reason, is not there. And it’s putting too much pressure on our bench to have to come in, night after night and have to bail us out and have to expend so much energy getting back into the game. Then they get tired and then I try to put our starters back in to give them another opportunity – they push the lead up to 10 again. And that’s kind of been the theme and the way that things have been going. So, I have to kind of search and figure out what I’m going to have to do to remedy that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans reinjured his left ankle in Friday’s win over the Grizzlies … Brook Lopez missed Friday’s loss in Detroit with another sprained ankle, but says he already feels betterTom Thibodeau played Jimmy Butler more than 36 minutes in his return from turf toe … and the Knicks are down another big man.

ICYMI: Rudy Gay made his debut for the Sacramento Kings on Friday…


VIDEO: Rudy Gay’s Kings Debut

Cheeks Wants Jennings To Step Up On ‘D’


VIDEO: Detroit at New Orleans, Dec. 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Jennings filled up the hoop with 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt out four assists.

As usual, that wasn’t the issue.

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings (Dan Lippitt/NBAE)

On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio ransacked The Palace by doing almost anything he pleased. Barely 24 hours later it was Jrue Holiday along with Tyreke Evans (on a tender ankle) who took apart the Pistons with dribble penetration.

There is room for all of the routine excuses — the Pistons are the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have so many different new parts still learning about each other and how to play together. But Wednesday night they played a Pelicans team that was without its best player in Anthony Davis and overcoming a horrid 6-for-18 shooting night from Ryan Anderson – and they still found a way to get past Detroit.

Mostly that way was straight down the middle.

A Pistons team that should have a stifling front line of the sizable Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has a defense that is ranked 19th in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

It’s enough to make Detroit fans long for the days of the Bad Boys and a couple of good forearm shivers.

That’s why coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for his point guard, Jennings, to take on his share of the defensive burden.

When he was asked whether he might “hide” Jennings in a run of three straight games against high powered point guards Holiday, Deron Williams (Nets) and Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) by switching the assignment to rookie Kentavious Pope-Caldwell, Cheeks threw down the gauntlet.

“Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” Cheeks said of the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good.”

Since he popped in 55 points as a rookie with the Bucks, Jennings has been all about his offensive ability. But in a league where point guard skill is more abundant than ever, if Jennings is going to get back into the headlines and crack the upper echelon, he’ll have to stop relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes and lack of commitment on defense.

Cheeks, who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders during his 15-year NBA career, wants his point guard to take the challenge personally.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. “You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players. You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

Belinelli, Most Improved Shooter

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

Marco Belinelli is shooting 57 percent from 3-point range. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE )

The List

Biggest improvement, effective field-goal percentage

2012-13 2013-14
Player FGA eFG% FGA eFG% Diff.
Marco Belinelli 610 46.0% 140 63.6% 17.6%
Michael Beasley 766 43.4% 119 58.4% 15.0%
Andre Iguodala 879 50.2% 110 65.0% 14.8%
Jodie Meeks 530 50.2% 198 61.9% 11.7%
Wesley Matthews 808 54.0% 238 64.9% 10.9%
Tony Allen 638 44.8% 128 55.1% 10.3%
Jeremy Lin 897 49.0% 155 57.7% 8.7%
Spencer Hawes 811 48.3% 236 57.0% 8.7%
Markieff Morris 653 44.2% 196 52.0% 7.9%
Klay Thompson 1,205 50.9% 352 58.7% 7.8%

Minimum 500 FGA in 2012-13 and 100 FGA in 2013-14
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

It’s interesting how a different team can make a player better. The top two guys on this list went from bottom-10 offensive teams last season to top-10 offensive teams this season. Marco Belinelli went from the Rose-less Bulls to the Spurs, while Michael Beasley went from the Suns to the Heat. Andre Iguodala was part of a top-five offense last season, but the Warriors certainly space the floor a lot better than the Nuggets did.

Speaking of floor spacing, Belinelli is shooting a ridiculous 30-for-53 (57 percent) from 3-point range after going 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s win in Toronto. He’s also shooting 51 percent from inside the arc.

Is it a product of the system? Do Tony Parker‘s pick-and-roll brilliance and the Spurs’ ball movement produce more open shots for Belinelli?

First of all, only 54 of Belinelli’s 140 shots have come with Parker on the floor. He actually has shot better with Parker on the bench. He’s played more minutes with Patty Mills as his point guard and has been assisted 22 times by Manu Ginobili. Mills’ improvement, Ginobili’s resurrection and Belinelli’s shooting are big reasons why the Spurs are 16-4 despite an underperforming starting lineup.

According to SportVU, 61 percent of Belinelli’s shots have been uncontested* this season, a jump from 56 percent last season. But the jump is all in his 2-point attempts. In the 20 Bulls games that were tracked by SportVU last season, none of Belinelli’s 47 2-point attempts were uncontested. This season, 42 of his 87 2-point attempts have been uncontested.

*Uncontested: The nearest defender is at least four feet away.

Both years, most of his 3-point attempts (87 percent last season and 83 percent this season) have been uncontested. But he’s shooting them much better with the Spurs. He’s also 6-for-9 on contested threes this year.

So it’s very possible that this is just a fluky start to the season for Belinelli. Or maybe there’s something in the Riverwalk water.

There is one more aspect to Belinelli’s shooting that SportVU can clue us in on: whether he’s shooting more off the catch or off the dribble.

In games tracked by SportVU last season, 60 percent of Belinelli’s shots were catch-and-shoot. This season, that number is up to 75 percent. But again, he’s shooting much better on those catch-and-shoot jumpers this year.

While the Spurs run the most beautiful offense in the league and that offense certainly makes players look better than they would elsewhere, it’s hard to believe that Belinelli’s shooting numbers are very sustainable.

The Video

Here’s video of Belinelli’s six 3-point attempts against the Rockets on Nov. 30. One was a half-court heave, three were wide-open looks on feeds from Ginobili, one was a semi-heat-check, and the last was a rushed shot with the Spurs down four in the closing seconds. If you’re a Spurs fan, you have to love the way Ginobili has been playing.

And if you really like your meatballs spicy, here are all 30 of Belinelli’s made 3-pointers this season.

The bottom of the list

Kosta Koufos is the anti-Belinelli, with a regression of 13.6 percent. That mark edges out Kevin Garnett (-12.7 percent), Jerryd Bayless (-11.4 percent), Patrick Patterson (-10.6 percent) and Tyreke Evans (-9.4 percent). Koufos had an effective field-goal percentage of 58.1 percent on 508 shots with Denver last season and is at 44.5 percent on 146 shots with Memphis this season.

Trivia question

To qualify for the above list, you had to have attempted at least 500 shots last season. There are five players who had at least 500 field-goal attempts last season and have not played a game this season. Four of them are on rosters and are injured: Carlos Delfino, Danilo Gallinari, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor. Can you name the fifth?

Random notes

  • Chris Paul has 84 assists to Blake Griffin this season and no other combination has nearly that number. Next on the list of teammate-to-teammate assists is Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who have hooked up for 62 of Horford’s buckets.
  • Paul, Griffin and the Clippers have the No. 1 home offense, scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 10 home games. But they have just the 17th best road offense, scoring only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 12 road games. Their differential of 10.3 isn’t the biggest in the league. That belongs to the Mavs, who have scored 10.9 more points per 100 possessions at home than they have on the road.
  • The biggest defensive differential belongs to the Rockets, who have allowed 14.9 fewer points per 100 possessions at home. Houston ranks third defensively at home and 28th on the road. The good news is that they have the No. 1 road offense.
  • Deron Williams returned to the Nets’ lineup against Boston on Tuesday and Brooklyn played its best offensive game of the season, scoring about 116 points per 100 possessions against what was a top-10 defense. Point guards are important.

Trivia answer

Shannon Brown, who attempted 571 shots for the Suns last season. He was sent to the Wizards in the Marcin Gortat trade and was waived before the season.

Pelicans’ Big Five Seeing More Time


VIDEO: Holiday, Pelicans knock off Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Sometimes, you just have to put your five best players on the floor.

That’s what New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams is able to do now that Ryan Anderson is healthy. And on Friday in Philly, Williams played his big five – Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis – for 18 1/2 minutes, the most they’d seen as a group in the six games since Anderson returned from a fractured toe.

Prior to Friday, the group had played almost half of its 32 minutes in the fourth quarter. But in Philadelphia, Williams went to the lineup midway through the first quarter, with Evans and Anderson replacing starters Anthony Morrow and Jason Smith. And the big five went right to work offensively, scoring 23 points on 11 possessions to end the period.

Evans attacked in transition, while Anderson and Gordon spaced the floor, getting easy 3s off pick-and-rolls here and here (video) thanks, in part, to the attention Davis drew in the paint. Davis is the Pelicans’ best player and that lineup’s success starts with him.

“When he runs the court, all of the attention focuses on him,” Anderson said. “So he leaves an open shot for me or, if we actually get set up down at the other end, Tyreke’s going to attack the rim and force a lot of attention himself. I think we just have a group of guys that really just know how to play in that lineup.”

That lineup struggled in a stretch during the third quarter, but overall, scored 54 points on 38 possessions on Friday, a rate of 142 per 100, which is pretty incredible.

Defense was another story, and that’s the trade-off. The Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis group allowed the Sixers to score 48 points on 36 possessions, a rate of 133 per 100, which is pretty terrible.

During that same first-quarter stint, they continuously got beat by Tony Wroten on high pick-and-rolls here, here and here.

“We try to get to that lineup, but that’s not a cure-all,” Williams said afterward. “It is a lineup that can cause problems. But we just have to learn how to defend and share the ball better.”

In 51 minutes through Friday, the lineup has scored 132 points per 100 possessions and allowed 116. So far, the great offense has outweighed the bad D. But Williams doesn’t just want to accept that trade-off.

“You can’t just put a defensive lineup on the floor [to get better defense],” Williams said before the game. “Whoever you put on the floor has to play better defense. We’re a month into it. Our guys are going to figure that out. I would like to find more minutes for that group.”

He did find more minutes for that group. Of course, more minutes for that group could mean a heavy burden for Holiday, Gordon and Davis, who start the game and with a different pair of forwards and will remain on the floor to give the big five a good run. Holiday and Gordon each played season highs in minutes on Friday.

Williams knows that Gordon, in particular, needs monitoring. He’s now played in 15 straight games for the first time since January of 2011.

“I want to play him more,” Williams said. “But I have to be aware that this is the most basketball he’s played in 2 1/2 years. So I didn’t want to rush him into it and I’ve been talking to him lately about how he feels.”

How many minutes the big five lineup gets, as well as how it performs both offensively and defensively, will be something to keep an eye on all season. Williams clearly likes bringing both Evans and Anderson off the bench, but he’s still searching for a starting small forward. Al-Farouq Aminu started the first 13 games there, but was replaced by Morrow on Friday.

“The [starting] lineup can change the next game,” Williams said. “That’s where we are right now. We haven’t gotten a ton of production out of our starting small forward position.”

They have gotten a ton of production – at least on one end of the floor – from the big five.

Five Players Who Need To Step It Up

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – We’re only approaching 10 games in, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to eyeball some concerning trends that could quickly become disturbing. I’ve pinpointed five players I believe have left something to be desired. Each is an established veteran who entered this season with a new and exciting situation, and high expectations.

1. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Supposedly happy in Houston, Howard’s stats — 18.2 ppg and 14.9 rpg — certainly look All-Star worthy. But take a deeper look. He’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, a mark not seen since his first two seasons in the league — and four percentage points lower than last season when he complained the Lakers didn’t get him the ball in his sweet spots. Yes, he and the Rockets, just 5-4, are adjusting, and this could take time, but Howard has looked awkward on the block and is shooting just 37 percent in the paint, per NBA.com stats. More discouraging is his free-throw shooting. He said he wanted to shoot between 75 and 80 percent — which was laughable. Instead he’s dragging a career-low 47.9 percent. Teams are already employing the Hack-a-Howard tactic and the Rockets are seeing how frustrating it is to have a big man who can’t make free throws in crunch time. They’ve been awful trying to close out games. And Hack-a-Howard isn’t just a late-game tactic anymore. The Sixers intentionally fouled him late in the first half of Wednesday’s game. Howard’s old club, the severely undermanned Lakers without Kobe Bryant, essentially won their game at Houston because Howard couldn’t make free throws when fouled on purpose.

There’s more. Where is the chiseled, 265-pound Howard’s passion? His passivity against the Lakers was mind-boggling, and running away from Lakers players attempting to intentionally foul him was embarrassing.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard gets the block of the night against the Sixers

2. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

A forgettable start to the season got worse with a stress fracture to his left shin that will sideline McGee indefinitely. A sluggish start might not rank high on the surprise list for many, but if there was ever a time the 7-footer was going to put it together, this seemed it. His new coach Brian Shaw was moving away from George Karl‘s up-tempo, dribble-drive offense to a more traditional, low-post system. McGee spent much of the offseason working on his game, seemingly determined to bury, on the court at least, his goofball reputation. Prior to the start of training camp he told NBA.com: “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.”

It didn’t take Shaw long to apply the brakes, trusting McGee to even fewer minutes than Karl. In five starts, McGee averaged 7.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg in 15.8 mpg. He shot 43.6 percent. Denver, 3-4 after starting 1-4, traded Kosta Koufos to Memphis anticipating McGee’s rise. Recovering from the stress fracture only complicates McGee’s path to improvement. He’s in the second year of a $44 million contract, which so far looks like a very expensive mistake by the Nuggets.


VIDEO: JaVale McGee finishes off the alley-oop from Randy Foye

3. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

Evans’ fresh start away from Sacramento dysfunction was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the fifth-year combo guard. The Pelicans hyped the sixth-man role behind Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and it made sense. Evans can score and going against other second units would seem a great idea. An ankle injury slowed him early into the preseason and it’s been slow-going ever since. Evans is averaging a career-low 9.0 ppg and is logging a career-low 24.0 mpg. His shooting has been abysmal, 36.2 percent overall and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. Evans has never truly been a high-volume 3-point shooter and he’s never shot it with considerable accuracy, but really, he could probably make 12.5 percent blindfolded.

This has to concern the Pelicans’ front office if trading Gordon, who always seems to be on the block, is still a consideration later this season. Even Evans’ free-throw percentage is suffering. A 76.4-percent shooter from the stripe over his career, he’s only at 66.7 percent. The team’s overall optimism that sprouted from a successful preseason has been shrouded by a 3-6 start, including Wednesday’s demoralizing loss at previously winless Utah.


VIDEO: Tyreke Evans on the Pelicans’ deep roster

4. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

This is Williams’ second season as the maxed-out point guard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban claims he’s happy to have lost out on two summers ago. Since Williams signed his five-year, $98-million contract to stay with the Nets, he has not produced like a max player, with either injuries or coaching fit being the culprit. Williams is averaging 11.1 ppg — lowest by a long shot since his rookie season) and 7.4 apg. He’s the quarterback of  a team built for instant contention with All-Star (Joe Johnson) and Hall of Fame (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) talent, albeit aging talent outside of center Brook Lopez, yet another All-Star. Williams was again hobbled by an ankle issue during the preseason and he still might be gimpy. Meshing won’t happen overnight, but the level at which the Nets, 2-5, have played (i.e. losing by 21 at Sacramento on Wednesday) should be deeply concerning to Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who will shell out close to $190 million in payroll and luxury tax this season.

If anybody knows how to get Williams going it should be his rookie coach and No. 1 golfing buddy Jason Kidd. Kidd has to figure out how to get Williams in his comfort zone, to allow him to create and use his size to his advantage, while also getting the rest of this cast involved. Maybe then Williams will exude the confident, follow-me persona of a leader that just isn’t there.


VIDEO: Nets.com tags along on a workout with Deron Williams

5. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

Starting from scratch with playoff-hopeful Toronto, Gay still can’t shake the inefficiency thing. Yes, he’s averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, which look great. But with Gay, as the stat geeks remind, you have to look deeper to see that he’s averaging those 19.7 ppg on 19.8 field-goal attempts. He’s connecting at just a 36.5-percent rate. He is shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a mark bolstered by going 7-for-14 in the last two games, including 4-for-6 Wednesday night to get the Raptors to 4-5 at the expense of his former team, the struggling Memphis Grizzlies. But since he shoots mostly mid-range jumpers, the overall percentage is stark. In an overtime loss at Houston, Gay reached rare inefficient air when he finished with 29 points on 37 shot attempts — 8-for-29 inside the arc; 3-for-8 behind it.

During the offseason Gay had eye surgery to correct a pretty serious vision problem, and, realizing he had to get his shooting percentages up, went to work with his personal trainer for hours each day at his old high school gym in Baltimore. As he put it to NBA.com: “Honestly, I had two bad years of shooting the ball and this last year was really bad, so I just had to go back to the basics. It wasn’t as much my eye sight as it was my form.” Unfortunately for Gay, so far his shooting percentage has only worsened.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay with the assist of the night against the Grizzlies

Early Numbers Show Problems With Lineup Combinations

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.

It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.

Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.

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

How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?

Minutes: 141
Pace: 91.3
OffRtg: 101.3
DefRtg: 116.9
NetRtg: -15.7
+/-: minus-34

No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.

They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.

The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.

There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.

After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.

Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Asik-Howard combination

Minutes: 93
Pace: 93.6
OffRtg: 87.3
DefRtg: 103.1
NetRtg: -15.8
+/-: minus-35

Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Rockets efficiency

On floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Asik + Howard 93 93.6 87.3 103.1 -15.8 -35
Only Asik 88 105.3 102.5 92.0 +10.5 +19
Only Howard 196 100.9 110.8 98.3 +12.5 +39
One of the two 284 102.3 108.1 96.3 +11.8 +58

With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.

20131102_hou_side_pnr

If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.

Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).

The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”

Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.

Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together

Minutes: 133
Pace: 94.8
OffRtg: 97.6
DefRtg: 118.0
NetRtg: -20.4
+/-: minus-52

Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.

You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.

Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.

The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.

Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.

That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.

Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon

Minutes: 51
Pace: 98.4
OffRtg: 99.0
DefRtg: 105.8
NetRtg: -6.8
+/-: plus-1

It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.

Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.

Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.

Two-point-guard combinations

Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…

On-court efficiency, two-PG combos

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
CHI Hinrich & Rose 6 48 108.8 81.0 110.5 -29.5 -37
CLE Irving & Jack 8 101 94.3 86.2 91.3 -5.1 -8
DEN Lawson & Miller 6 70 101.3 97.5 96.0 +1.5 +3
DEN Lawson & Robinson 4 42 103.3 102.3 110.3 -7.9 -3
DEN Miller & Robinson 6 66 95.3 83.3 95.2 -11.9 -14
HOU Beverley & Lin 5 61 104.4 107.6 90.2 +17.5 +14
MEM Bayless & Conley 5 39 100.4 118.7 95.8 +22.9 +18
NYK Felton & Prigioni 5 74 93.8 91.7 89.9 +1.9 -4
OKC Jackson & Westbrook 4 22 106.6 133.2 92.4 +40.8 +19
ORL Nelson & Oladipo 8 81 102.5 106.9 88.5 +18.4 +21
PHX Bledsoe & Dragic 4 70 94.8 110.2 101.1 +9.1 +11
POR Lillard & Williams 7 105 96.6 111.6 111.4 +0.2 +11
SAC Thomas & Vasquez 5 44 94.8 101.6 92.2 +9.4 0

One Team, One Stat: Post-All-Star Improvement From The Kings

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next is the Sacramento Kings, who showed some signs of life (at least on one end of the floor) in the second half of last season.

The basics
SAC Rank
W-L 28-54 25
Pace 96.3 7
OffRtg 103.0 13
DefRtg 108.6 29
NetRtg -5.6 26

The stat

6.6 - More points per 100 possessions the Kings scored after the All-Star break (107.3) than they scored before it (100.7), the biggest improvement in the league.

The context

The Kings ranked 18th offensively at the break, but were the seventh best offensive team after it, better than the Rockets, Lakers, Warriors, Spurs and six other playoff teams. They were still pretty terrible defensively, of course. That’s why they went just 9-19.

But the offense was a breath of fresh air. The offense finished the season ranked 13th, the highest ranking in seven years.

Their free-throw rate and rebounding percentage went down after the break, but they did a better job of taking care of the ball and shot better from both inside and outside the arc.

Kings’ offense, 2012-13

Timeframe 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank
Pre-break 46.4% 23 35.0% 17 27.4% 13 15.6% 13 .278 12
Post-break 49.4% 13 38.1% 6 25.0% 21 14.0% 5 .258 20
Total 47.4% 20 36.3% 12 26.6% 16 15.0% 9 .271 14

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA

Two other stats are important. First, the Kings went from 10th in pace (95.2 possessions per 48 minutes) before the break to No. 1 in pace (98.5) after it. And that increase clearly suited them better. They played better both offensively and defensively in their fastest-paced games last season.

Secondly, the Kings increased their assist rate (AST/FGM) from 54.0 percent to 57.7 percent. That’s not a huge increase and, league-wide, there’s no correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency. But it’s certainly notable when it’s the Kings, who have ranked in the bottom five in assist rate each of the last six seasons.

The highlight of the Kings’ second half was a 116-101 win over the Clippers on March 19, in which they assisted on 25 (68 percent) of their 37 baskets. Watch how, on seven of the 14 threes they hit that night, guys made an extra pass for a better shot…


Hockey assists galore. If their uniforms were white and black instead of white and purple, you might think that was the Spurs. The Kings have had some decent offensive talent, guys that can hurt a decent defense, over the years. But they’ve never really worked together or made the most of what they had.

In that Clippers game, guys were looking for each other. The ball sought the open man and it didn’t stop until it found him.

Marcus Thornton led them with 25 points in that game and was their most improved shooter after the break. His effective field-goal percentage went from 48.3 percent before the break to 57.4 percent after it. Isiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans also improved their shooting and efficiency.

Cousins went from having only 43 percent of his baskets assisted before the break to having 60 percent of them assisted after. If he can permanently cut down on the face-up isos, he might start living up to his potential.

Of course, the Kings made big changes this summer. Evans is gone and Greivis Vasquez – a real point guard – is in his place. Mike Malone is the new coach and brings with him a new system. He’d be justified to start from scratch with this team. But he also might want to show them how good they can be when the ball moves.

Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA

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

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

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HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

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