Posts Tagged ‘Victor Oladipo’

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Rookie of the Year by the numbers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams named Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for March

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kia Rookie of the Year voting should be pretty simple this season. There are only nine rookies who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game for 50 games or more. And none of those have done it for a team with a winning record.

Winning records don’t matter much in Rookie of the Year voting. None of the last 10 winners played for teams with winning records. So there probably won’t be anything stopping the media from voting for Michael Carter-Williams (of the 16-59 Sixers) or Victor Oladipo (of the 21-54 Magic).

Carter-Williams appears to be the clear favorite. He leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game.

That doesn’t mean that he’s the best player among all rookies. He’s just had the biggest opportunity, playing for a team that stripped its roster bare over the course of the last 10 months.

Carter-Williams has been the only rookie to start every game he’s played in, and his back-up — Tony Wroten — was never a threat to take any of his minutes, especially since developing the rookie has been priority No. 1 in Philadelphia this season. Even if winning games was a priority, Wroten isn’t good enough to take minutes away from MCW.

Not only has Carter-Williams led rookies in minutes per game and usage rate, but the Sixers have played at the *fastest pace in the league. So, when it comes to racking up per-game numbers, he’s had a three-tier advantage over other rookies.

* The fourth fastest pace of the last 20 years, actually.

We can adjust for all that, though. NBA.com’s PIE statistic 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. And only one rookie ranks higher than Carter-Williams in terms of PIE…

All stats are through April 3, 2014.

Rookies who have played 1,000 minutes, sorted by PIE

Player GP MIN eFG% TS% Usg% PIE
Mason Plumlee 62 1,079 63.2% 65.3% 16.9% 10.5%
Michael Carter-Williams 63 2,181 42.2% 46.9% 26.0% 9.8%
Nick Calathes 64 1,069 49.5% 51.0% 17.9% 9.8%
Victor Oladipo 73 2,325 45.3% 51.2% 24.0% 9.6%
Nate Wolters 58 1,310 46.0% 48.6% 16.7% 9.3%
Cody Zeller 75 1,266 41.9% 49.1% 18.2% 8.7%
Trey Burke 63 1,995 44.2% 47.2% 22.1% 8.1%
Kelly Olynyk 63 1,215 48.6% 52.8% 20.0% 8.0%
Ryan Kelly 52 1,103 51.2% 57.3% 15.4% 7.8%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 70 1,705 46.9% 52.5% 15.3% 7.6%
Matthew Dellavedova 66 1,132 50.8% 53.7% 13.3% 7.5%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 75 1,732 52.9% 55.8% 19.1% 7.4%
Hollis Thompson 70 1,559 54.5% 56.7% 11.4% 6.0%
Tony Snell 70 1,178 47.0% 48.9% 15.0% 5.8%
Steven Adams 74 1,102 49.7% 53.6% 11.7% 5.2%
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 73 1,446 45.9% 48.3% 13.6% 5.0%
Ben McLemore 75 1,934 44.4% 47.9% 16.7% 3.9%

eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 FTA)))

By the way, this certainly isn’t the best rookie class in recent memory, but it might have the longest names.

So Mason Plumlee has made more of his minutes than Carter-Williams has, and has also done it for a playoff team. But MCW has played twice as many minutes. And if you’re voting for Rookie of the Year, it’s hard to argue against that.

Carter-Williams has also made the Sixers a better team. They’ve been outscored by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, but by only 8.9 with him on the floor. That minus-8.9 NetRtg would still rank 29th in the league (ahead of only the Bucks), but it’s a heck of a lot better than minus-15.2.

Of the 17 rookies who have played at least 1,000 minutes, only three have a positive plus-minus. They are Steven Adams (plus-52), Matthew Dellavedova (plus-46) and Nick Calathes (plus-9). And Adams’ team has been much better with him off the floor.

Several more rookies can say they’ve made a positive impact…

Rookies who have played 1,000 minutes, sorted by on-off-court NetRtg differential

On court Off court Difference
Player MIN NetRtg MIN NetRtg NetRtg Rank
Nate Wolters 1,310 -1.8 2,330 -13.0 11.2 10
Matthew Dellavedova 1,132 +3.1 2,561 -7.3 10.4 16
Giannis Antetokounmpo 1,705 -4.4 1,935 -13.0 8.5 25
Michael Carter-Williams 2,181 -8.9 1,454 -15.2 6.3 47
Ryan Kelly 1,103 -1.9 2,502 -7.6 5.7 53
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 1,446 -0.8 2,174 -6.3 5.5 59
Kelly Olynyk 1,215 -2.2 2,395 -7.4 5.3 61
Trey Burke 1,995 -7.3 1,615 -10.1 2.8 97
Nick Calathes 1,069 +1.1 2,551 +0.8 0.3 135
Hollis Thompson 1,559 -12.0 2,076 -11.0 -1.0 150
Victor Oladipo 2,325 -5.8 1,330 -4.6 -1.2 151
Mason Plumlee 1,079 -1.4 2,513 +0.6 -2.0 169
Cody Zeller 1,266 -2.8 2,364 +0.9 -3.7 192
Ben McLemore 1,934 -5.0 1,696 +0.0 -5.1 204
Steven Adams 1,102 +3.4 2,475 +9.3 -5.9 209
Tim Hardaway Jr. 1,732 -5.3 1,951 +2.0 -7.3 221
Tony Snell 1,178 -4.5 2,467 +4.3 -8.8 229

NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions
Rank = Among 236 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes for one team

It helps to know who those guys are playing their minutes with, but among Sixer rotation regulars, only Evan Turner had a higher on-court NetRtg than Carter-Williams.

So while it’s important to add context to Carter-Williams per-game numbers, the context doesn’t hurt his Rookie of the Year candidacy very much.

All-Star Saturday Gets A Makeover

Portland's Damian Lillard will have a busy weekend in New Orleans. (Cameron Browne/NBAE)

Portland’s Damian Lillard will have a busy weekend in New Orleans. (Cameron Browne/NBAE)

There will still be the rim-rattling, mind-bending slam dunks, the barrage of breathtaking 3-pointers and the dazzling array of skills on display when the greatest talent in basketball gathers.

But State Farm All-Star Saturday Night will undergo an extreme makeover this year in New Orleans with rule changes for all four of the events and an overall team competition between the Eastern and Western conferences — led by captains Paul George and Stephen Curry – with $500,000 in charitable contributions on the line.

Perhaps the most familiar name by the end of the extravaganza will be guard Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, who will be busier than a trumpet player in a French Quarter brass band. He’s taking part in three of Saturday’s four events — including stints as a dunker, a long-distance shooter and a playmaker in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. The 2013 Rookie of the Year already has a busy dance card; he’s scheduled to play in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night and in the 63rd NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

The most dramatic change Saturday is coming in the night’s marquee event, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The competition will feature six dunkers, three from each conference, in a free-wheeling, two-round showdown to determine the best conference. For the first time in the event’s history, no individual dunker will be crowned. Instead, the title will go to the best conference. Complete rules.

Dunking for the Eastern Conference will be the team captain George of the Pacers, 2013 champion Terrence Ross of the Raptors and John Wall of the Wizards.  The Western Conference dunkers will be Lillard, Harrison Barnes of the Warriors and Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings.

The 6-foot-3 Lillard will be battling in the land of the giants as the shortest participant in the slam dunk contest.

Highlights: George | Ross | Wall | Lillard | Barnes | McLemore

Before he puts on his dunking shoes, Lillard will be showing off his marksmanship as part of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.  The other participants are Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Joe Johnson of the Nets and Arron Afflalo of the Magic for the East.  Curry of the Warriors, Marco Belinelli of the Spurs and Kevin Love of the Timberwolves will join Lillard shooting for the West.

The major rule change in the contest is that players will have an entire rack of “money balls,” which count double, that can be placed in any of the five shooting positions around the court. Complete rules.

The Taco Bells Skills challenge has been turned into a relay race this year with each conference fielding two teams consisting of two players each.  Each team will run the course, competing in a relay format for a single overall time. Complete rules.

The ubiquitous Lillard will team with Trey Burke of the Jazz and Reggie Jackson of the Thunder will team with Goran Dragic of the Suns to make up the Western Conference lineup.  The East teams will be Michael Carter-Williams of the Sixers with Victor Oladipo of the Magic and DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors with rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks.

The Sears Shooting Stars will once again team a current NBA player with a WNBA star and an NBA legend in a time competition that will require four shots made from different spots on the court.

Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Knicks and Chris Bosh of the Heat will head up the East teams, while Kevin Durant of the Thunder and Curry will lead the West. Complete rules.

Each conference will be competing for charity. A total of $500,000 will be donated at the end of the night. For each competition, $100,000 will go to the winning conference’s charities, with $25,000 going to the charities of the runner-up.

State Farm All-Star Saturday night will be televised exclusively on TNT on Feb. 15 (8 p.m. ET).

[UPDATE: TNT will hold a fan vote during the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest to determine the Sprite Dunker of the Night. The winner of that vote will be considered the individual champion for the competition.]


Video: 2014 All-Star Saturday Night Participants

Taking A Crack at Rising Stars Draft

Do they pick Anthony Davis, who will have his chance to shine in front of the hometown crowd in New Orleans? Or jump at the chance to get reigning Rookie of the year Damian Lillard?

BBVA Compass Rising Stars ChallengeDo they go with point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who’s dazzled in his first year in the Eastern Conference, or Trey Burke, who’s lived up to the advance billing in the West?

Those are just a few of the questions confronting Grant Hill and Chris Webber when they act as “general managers” and pick the teams for the 2014 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge (tonight on TNT at 7  ET). The choices will be part of a special one-hour addition of TNT NBA Tip-Off.

Al the participants in State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (featuring the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk) will also be revealed, along with a revamped format.

But the heavy lifting will be done by Turner Sports analysts Hill and Webber in assembling their teams. So NBA.com colleague Steve Aschburner and I thought we’d lend a hand by providing a few tips in advance.

Here’s the way we stocked the teams, alternating picks, with me going first:

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

1 — Anthony Davis, F/C, Pelicans (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “One brow, one choice. It’s got to be the obvious hometown favorite who was snubbed for the big show.”

2 — Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Could dominate if he uses Friday as dress rehearsal for Sunday.”

3 — Michael Carter-Williams, G, Sixers (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Foundation to Philly future, a steal at No. 11, probably should have gone here in 2013 draft.”

4 — Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “On a roll lately: stats 16.7 ppt, 10.2. rpg, 58 percent last six games.”

5 — Tim Hardaway, G, Knicks (Rookie) — Blinebury: “From the D-League to NBA, baskets the same size and he can fill them.”

6 — Brady Beal, G, Wizards (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Mature beyond years, will be comfortable in second Rising Stars Game.”

7 — Steven Adams, C, Thunder (Rookie) — Blinebury: “You can’t teach height, or sharp elbows.”

8 — Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Bucks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Re-draft the class of ’13 and this guy’s in the top three.”

9 — Andre Drummond, C, Pistons (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Young, tall and knows how to get me the ball.”

10 — Victor Oladipo, G, Magic (Rookie) — Aschburner: “East Rookie of Month in December, guards can thrive in this game.”

11 — Trey Burke, G, Jazz (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Comes off the injured list to be the everything the Jazz hoped.”

12 — Jared Sullinger, F/C, Celtics (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Stepping up as soph starter, he brings toughness.”

13 — Terrence Jones, F, Rockets (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “He’s filled the Rockets’ void at the 4, maybe making a trade unnecessary.”

14 — Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Coming off bench has been a challenge, he’s ready for reset button.”

15 — Dion Waiters, G, Cavaliers (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Since he doesn’t have to rely on Kyrie Irving to get him the ball, should get plenty of shots.”

16 — Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Celtics (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Averages half this, but per-36-minute numbers are: 13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.”

17 — Mason Plumlee, F/C, Nets (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Up and down with limited playing time, but has a true shooting percentage of 64.8.”

18 — Pero Antic, C, Hawks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Lock as All-Star Weekend’s Macedonian MVP.”

G.M. Steve Aschburner: Since Team Fran cheated on the coin flip – funny how that can happen over the phone! – I picked second and lost out on host-city favorite Anthony Davis, who probably has the game’s MVP award half in the bag on sentiment alone. But that’s OK, because I managed to round up enough bigs to occupy Davis – Jonas Valanciunas with his size and skills inside 15 feet, Jared Sullinger with his burly game and Kelly Olynyk with pick-and-pop proclivities.

Besides, games of this All-Star ilk tend to be dominated by the guards, who have the ball in their hands and initiate plays. My backcourt of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo is superior, and those three will spend a lot of time on the floor together to run his crew ragged in small ball. I’m counting on Lillard, who will participate Sunday in the big game, to take this one seriously and not save himself. Surely the 2013 Rookie of the Year doesn’t want any half-season wonders like Carter-Williams, Hardaway or Burke getting over on him.

My squad also has the game’s X factor: the Greek Freak. Given Milwaukee’s dreary season, this will serve as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s coming-out party on a national – wait, international – stage. As the youngest rookie, whose coltish skills and breathtaking moments inspire all sorts of enticing, five-years-from-now dreams, Antetokounmpo conceivably could challenge Davis in wowing the crowd and ride that adrenaline high to a special night.

Prediction: Team Asch 138, Team Fran 127.

G.M. Fran Blinebury: Maybe it was the good fortune that came with wearing my Broadway Joe Namath lucky coyote fur coat. Or maybe it was because when Team Asch, acting like wide-eyed rubes on their first trip to Bourbon Street, asked about having a coin flip, I quickly agreed and bounced a quarter off the coffee table. It was legit and I’d give you a link to the video, but we seem to have had some technical problems. Anyway, it was a no-brainer to make the Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the draft (again). With the hometown support he’ll have from the crowd, A.D. should pile up enough dunks and rejections to have the MVP award tucked safely inside his Pelican pouch by halftime.

Asch only thinks he’s got the most physical a lineup up front. I’ve got Andre Drummond and Terrence Jones, who like to mix it up on the inside and can get the ball off the backboard. And don’t forget those sharp elbows of Steve Adams that occasionally (oops!) deliver a message.

In a game where point guards control the ball and set the tone, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke will push the pace and take turns setting up A.D. for highlight reel dunks (and they’ll finish some themselves). If you want a dark horse contender to steal the spotlight, Tim Hardaway Jr. could carry the banner for the NBA D-League.

Prediction: Team Fran 152, Team Asch 131


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried was the MVP of the 2013 version of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Houston

Six Worthy Below-The-Radar All-Stars

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors' leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

DeMar DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer, at more than 21 points a game (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

We know the fan balloting to select the NBA All-Star Game starters is a beauty pageant more than a referendum on results.

Kobe Bryant, playing only six games this season, leading the balloting for the West backcourt and Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t played at all, ranked in the top six in the East means all that is missing is a sash and tiara.

With less than a week left in the voting for the starting lineups, it will be up to the coaches — they name the reserves — to fill in the blanks and rectify some of the slights. But there’s still more than handful of deserving players who could be left out. We’ll call them the All-Fars, as in too far under the radar:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Paul Millsap, F, Hawks — When teammate Al Horford was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it certainly made life a little more difficult for everyone on the Hawks. But it also shed some light on Millsap’s contributions. After six years in Utah, the Jazz let Millsap walk in the name of their youth movement. So he took his lunch-pail attitude to Atlanta as perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last summer. He’s rung up 16 double-doubles in the first 37 games this season and, along with point guard Jeff Teague, is responsible for keeping the Hawks in the No. 3 spot in the East.

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

Arron Afflalo, G, Magic — Location, location, location. Afflalo is hardly in the prime real estate spot for getting notice with the also-running Magic. There was a great deal of speculation that he would have to be traded before the start of the season to make way for rookie Victor Oladipo. But the Magic are glad they resisted the urge and kept him around. He’s averaging more than 21 points, four assists and four rebounds per game and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Is it too much of a stretch to label him the second-best shooting guard in the East behind Paul George? Dwyane Wade certainly gets the notoriety and the votes, but Afflalo has the credentials to be in the conversation.

DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors — If Afflalo is held back by Orlando being mired at the bottom of the East standings, how much of a bump can DeRozan get from being the lead dog pulling the wagon for the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors? That is odd just to type. But there’s no question that Toronto has come together in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. The 24-year-old DeRozan has ably stepped up to carry the offensive load and has shined in big wins at Oklahoma City and at home over the Pacers. He’s scoring, passing and rebounding. The only thing missing is a dependable 3-point stroke.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ty Lawson, G, Nuggets — With the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, it seems that the All-Star door is finally going to swing open for Stephen Curry. But that still leaves a gigantic logjam of point guards in the West. Never mind the populist voting that has the likes of Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin in the top 10. Lawson still has plenty of competition from Damian Lillard and Tony Parker, both of whom play for teams that are significantly higher up in the standings. The Nuggets had to do an extreme makeover with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the loss of Danilo Gallinari to a knee injury. Lawson has to carry the lion’s share of the load and is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. He said he didn’t like coach Brian Shaw’s system at the start of the season, but he has thrived in it.

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Nicolas Batum, F, Trail Blazers — He’s a victim of his own teammates. While the Blazers’ surprising rise in the standings is giving LaMarcus Aldridge his star turn, and Damian Lillard is constantly providing his own end-of-game highlights, the young Frenchman stands in the background and rarely draws more more attention than the wallpaper. He’s still long and lean, but seems to have grown in confidence with his offense. As part of the bombs-away Portland attack, he’s firing up at least five 3-pointers per game and connecting at a 40 percent clip. He’s also playing more of a role as a distributor and remains an excellent finisher on the Blazers’ break with his speed and length. Likely the only way Batum will ever get his due is if he helps take his team all the way to The Finals, where nobody gets overlooked.

Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans — A year ago, it was easy to look past the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft because his coach did more to stop him with a lack of playing time than any defender on the court. But the reins are off now and Davis has become a real force at both ends of the court, averaging just under 20 points, nine rebounds and more than two blocked shots per game. Coach Monty Williams says there is virtually nothing he doesn’t trust Davis to do on the court now. The 20-year-old, who’s expected to be the foundation of the franchise for the next decade, has had to shoulder even more of the load due to the spate of injuries that have taken down Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. He’s got a particularly tough road to travel to the All-Star Game in his hometown of New Orleans with Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few, blocking his path. Plus, he’s playing in the depths of the standings. But growth in the shadows is still growth.

Hang Time Q&A: Trey Burke On Patience, Pressure, John Stockton And More …




VIDEO: Trey Burke settles into his new role, new city and new life in the NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Trey Burke has had that giant chip on his shoulder from his first day of organized basketball. The first time someone doubted him started the trickle of resolve that turned into a raging waterfall by the time he reached high school in Columbus, Ohio (where he would eventually win Mr. Basketball honors after leading his team to a state title as a senior) and later Ann Arbor, Mich. (where he earned National Player of the Year honors and led Michigan back to the Final Four and NCAA title game after a two-decade absence).

It continued on Draft night in June, when Burke fell out of the top five and was picked by Minnesota only to be traded before he could get the right fit on his hat for the cameras. Next came a rough start in summer league and then a busted finger that cost him the first 12 games of his rookie season, those hiccups, of course, brought more doubters.

But the more people doubt him, the stronger Burke’s drive to continue to silence his critics and fuel his team’s rise, wherever he goes.

Burke talked about patience, pressure, summer school with Hall of Famer John Stockton and much more in a recent Hang Time One-On-One with NBA.com:

NBA.com: You spend your whole life dreaming about playing in the NBA and then you have to sit and watch the first 12 games with the busted finger. What did it look like watching your dream unfold from the sidelines like that?

Trey Burke: A lot of people would have expected me to be down or something like that. But I tried to stay as positive as possible at that time. I knew that when I came back I was going to have an opportunity to play and make an impact, so I tried to do everything I could from taking care of my body to staying in shape to eating right and preparing myself in every way I could to perform right away.

NBA.com: You actually delayed your NBA debut by a year. You could have entered the Draft after your freshman season at Michigan but chose to go back for another year. What did you hear and where from, that made you stay in school another year?

TB: The people that I trusted, the people in my corner, what they were saying sounded accurate in terms of what I needed to work on to improve my stock and be ready for the NBA. Me, I obviously wanted to get to the NBA as fast as I could, I dreamed about it my whole life. But I needed another year to mature and get better, not only the basketball court but off the court. I needed the maturity. I needed the life experiences. I needed that extra year of college. And it worked out for the best really. Had I come out after my freshman year, who knows where I would be now. I might have been a late first, early second or mid-second round pick. I’ll never know. But going back to school, making that Final Four run we made at Michigan, I think looking back it was definitely the right decision.

NBA.com: Coaches and people love to tell a young point guard different things. But you worked with Hall of Famer John Stockton this summer. I cannot imagine you getting any better advice on how to do your current job than you did from him. What did he hone in on in your game this summer and what ultimately was his message to you?

TB: One of the biggest things was pace of the game. And he said he’d watched me before, he watched my game and one thing I could work on was my pace. He said I had to work on setting guys up. He knew that I was a natural scorer at heart, but he knew that I also wanted to become a pure point guard that could score, kind of like a Chris Paul. He said when he started out, a lot of times he didn’t really like to take a lot of 3-pointers because it would mess his shooting percentage up. He said his goal was to try and get the easiest shot for his teammates or himself by attacking and being aggressive in that manner. It was a lot of information he gave me, it was funny, because he would stop us during the workout and just keep talking and talking. You could tell that he had a lot of stuff he wanted to tell us. It was just a great experience to be able to work with a Hall of Fame point guard like that.

NBA.com: There was so much speculation about where you might end up on Draft night. What went goes through your mind as a point guard when the Jazz, a franchise with a history of drafting both John Stockton and Deron Williams, decide you are the guy they want?

TB: Absolutely, I was just talking about that. Minnesota, when they picked me I was kind of like, ‘I didn’t work out with them or even interview with them.’ It didn’t make sense at first. And then five minutes later I get traded to Utah, and I didn’t work out with them. But I got the opportunity to sit down with them in Chicago and the pre-Draft camp and just to know that Deron Williams and John Stockton, some really great point guards came from there, I knew I was going to be put in a great spot to make an impact o this franchise. I just want to have a chance to be an impact player and leave my mark on this franchise. And that’s all you can ask for in the end.

NBA.com: I’ve heard you talk about comparisons to current or past NBA players and the name Chris Paul always comes up. But a former NBA player said you remind him of Allen Iverson in build and with your game. Do your try to pattern yourself after anyone or do you really, at this stage of the game, worry about being Trey Burke first and foremost and let other people worry about the comparisons?

TB: That’s funny, I just thought about this today, I want to go down as my own player. But I watched so much of Allen Iverson growing up that it’s kind of a blessing and a curse right now. I try to do so many things, like his jump shot for example, when he drifts and fades away, that it’s not really beneficial for me because sometimes I fade unnecessarily and it’ll make my shot flat or fall short. And that’s just a habit you pick up from watching such a phenomenal player like Allen Iverson do things that not everyone else can do. Growing up as a little kid, that’s obviously a guy I wanted to pattern my game after, but I know for this team I need to be a point guard first. We’ve got a lot of really good weapons, I’ve got a lot of really good weapons around me and I need to utilize them to the best of my ability. I want to be that point guard that can score if needed, but not at the expense of setting my teammates up. I think that’s when we are best as a unit.

NBA.com: You’ve had so many transitions in the past few years, from Columbus to Ann Arbor and now to Salt Lake City all before your 21st birthday (which was Nov. 12). That’s a lot of life changes in a short amount of time. Does it seem like it’s all gone by in a blur?

TB: It is a lot. Two years ago I was moving into my dorm and basically nobody knew me at Michigan. Some people might have known me after the Mr. Basketball and everything I was starting to make a name and a little buzz, but that seems like yesterday. My mom and dad and everybody was with me and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. But even from the Draft until now, being in Chicago for pre-Draft and then at summer league and now we’re 24, 25 games into the season. It’s all moving fast and that’s why I’m doing whatever it takes to keep getting better as the days go on because you don’t want to miss any opportunities or overlook any of the little things along the way that make this so special.

NBA.com: Is your work ethic born out of the absence from the McDonald’s All-American game and all of the other accolades most “late bloomers miss out on in terms of recognition?

TB: Some of the best players in this league came in with people doubting them, telling them what they couldn’t do and that they would never make it. I’ve always been a small point guard, so I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder from people saying I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t big enough. That just gave me that drive and determination to get better. I know what I can do, I know the parameters of my game and when I’m going outside of my game. Some of the best players in this league had the hype coming in but just as many didn’t have that hype. And it’s a correlating effect, look at a guy like Victor Oladipo that wasn’t really highly recruited in high school. He was the second pick in the Draft and now he’s in contention like myself and Michael Carter-Williams for Rookie of the Year. Guys have that drive when you’re doubted your whole life.

NBA.com: Are you glad you got picked where you did because of the opportunities that are open to you now in this situation as opposed to going somewhere else where, who knows what the expectations might have been?

TB: Absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of people came to me saying, “you were the national player of the year, you should have been a top five pick.” Obviously, you want to be a high pick. But to me, being a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft … who’s going to complain about that. I landed in a perfect situation, and I thank God for that, it’s the perfect fit. In Utah, we’re a young team that’s trying to grow together as a team. We’re struggling a bit right now, but we’re getting better. But I have the opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact. And that’s one of the biggest things I wanted to be a part of coming into the NBA.

NBA.com: You’ve put together some monster efforts already your first (17) games in the league. The 30 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in the win over Orlando sticks out. No Jazz rookie point guard has ever done that. Not Stockton or DWill. Do you have to be careful, though, about chasing ghosts and numbers instead of taking a more measured and methodical approach?

TB: Yes, I’m trying to bring it every single night You have to make sure are playing your best and doing what’s best for your team first every night and not getting caught up in anything else. People talking about you hitting that rookie wall, so you have to be careful. It’s in the back of my mind, but I personally think it’s mental. It’s also about the way you are handling yourself off the court, what you are eating and putting into your body, the amount of rest you are getting. I think all of that comes into play when you’re talking about how you’re going to play when game 40 comes and game 62 comes around, those games when you’re in a cold city and you’ve got a game the next morning and you’re coming off of a back-to-back. All of that factors into how you play. So I’m just going to continue to be around my vets and listen to them and learn from the guys who have the experience in this league to make sure I’m doing whatever I need to do to perform well from start to finish.

NBA.com: You got some great preparation for what you’re going through now trying to help revive a franchise in college. Michigan hadn’t been a championship team for decade before you arrived. It’s a huge burden to carry, on and off the court, when you’re the guy people expect to be that agent of change. Do you take that same knowledge and apply the things that connect in your current situation?

TB: At Michigan we were rebuilding, weren’t highly ranked my freshman year and then boom, the next year we take off and we’re No. 1 in the country for a time and end up making it to the championship game. I know this is a completely different level of competition, so it’s not going to be just like that. But I definitely have been a part of this same sort of thing, even before Michigan. Back in high school it was kind of like that. We came from basically out of nowhere to be the No. 1 team in the country and win a state championship. I’ve always been a part of winning programs that come from a struggle of some sort, from losing before we turn it around. That gives me confidence that it can happen with the Utah Jazz. This is a great franchise, a really family oriented franchise, but one built on all the right things. And all of my experiences, so far, definitely give me hope that we’re going to turn this thing around and be a factor in this league.


VIDEO: Trey Burke joins the Game Time crew on a recent visit to the NBA TV set

Back And Forth With Bones: Magic-Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-10 Orlando Magic visit the 8-9 Washington Wizards.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, we got Magic-Wizards tonight.

The Wiz have won six of their last eight games with an improved offense (103.5 points per 100 possessions vs. 98.5 in their first nine games). For the season, they’ve been great on both ends of the floor with John Wall, Nene and Marcin Gortat on the floor with two of the Trevor Ariza/Bradley Beal/Martell Webster group, outscoring opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. But all other lineups have been dreadful. So depth is an issue, especially with Beal out.

They’re a jump-shooting team. Only two teams (New York and Portland) have taken a lower percentage of shots from the paint. But they’re tied with the Heat for the league lead in corner 3-pointers. Wall has 32 assists on corner 3s (10 more than anybody else in the league) and Ariza and Webster are tied for second with 23 corner threes.

So that has to be a priority for Orlando’s defense, which ranks 26th in defending corner 3s and has been pretty bad over the last nine games after a strong start. I don’t know if Jameer Nelson is available (and the Magic offense has been pretty awful with him off the floor), but the Wall-Victor Oladipo matchup should be fun.

The Wizards have been a good defensive rebounding team with Gortat and Nene on the floor together, but pretty awful when one or both sits. So Nikola Vucevic could have some success if either gets in foul trouble.

Thoughts?

Barry: Yes, Randy Wittman is auditioning players to help take the load off of the starting group. But this game is interesting to me in that there is a lot of positivity regarding the Wizards recent play. Can they accept and continue what it is that has gotten them there?

With Beal out, I am stoked to see Martell Webster getting quality starter minutes, though 40-plus (in three of those) is too many. He’s just ready to get in there and mix it up, being a pro.

Watching John Wall balance out his game tonight will be key. Quality possessions against a team in Orlando that competes and shares the ball on offense are a must. The bigs must stay out of foul trouble for Washington.

Orlando is not a huge dribble-penetrate attack team other than Oladipo. It’s interesting that the Wiz have had this stretch with Beal (NBA minutes leader and their leading scorer) out.

Is Arron Afflalo an Eastern Conference All-Star? Hard to say he hasn’t played like one.

Schuhmann: Nah, the East All-Stars should just be six players each from Indiana and Miami.

Barry: Add four from the West to the East. Any player born east of the Mississippi can qualify for East team headed to NO!

(more…)

76ers’ MCW Doesn’t Play Like A Rookie


VIDEO: The Spotlight is shined on rookie phenom Michael Carter-Williams

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Is it too early to just go ahead and hand Michael Carter-Williams the Rookie of the Year trophy? Maybe, but who would argue?

It’s usually way too early to play the re-draft game. We typically reserve that for a couple years down the road to re-evaluate the order of the picks. The superb all-around play of the Philadelphia 76ers first-year point guard in his first 11 games has been as special as it is confounding as to how enough teams didn’t see this coming from a 6-foot-6 prospect that would allow him to drift all the way to No. 11.

No. 1 would be more like it. OK, so the Cleveland Cavaliers already have Kyrie Irving (and we won’t get into Anthony Bennett‘s start here), so No. 1 was out of the question anyway. But Orlando? The pick of Victor Oladipo at No. 2 was a solid choice, argued by no one, but the Magic are trying to train him as a point guard and there’s going to be some lumps along the way.

The Utah Jazz took Michigan point guard Trey Burke, the 6-foot college player of the year, at No. 9. We’ll have to wait a bit to make any declarations on Burke considering he broke his right index finger the third game into the preseason and has played in just two games, both coming off the bench, although that could change as early as tonight when the Jazz play at Oklahoma City (7 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Carter-Williams has simply soared above all other rookies and is a primary reason why the rebuilding 76ers shocked the league with a 4-2 start and 4-4 before he got hurt. In the four games he missed, Philly went 1-3.

He had the Sixers, still a surprising 6-9, scrapping Saturday night in a 106-98 road loss at the East-leading Pacers, going for 29 points, six rebounds, three assists and seven steals. The last stat, the steals, has been an eye-opener all season. He’s got 12 in the last two games and Carter-Williams started his career by nabbing nine against the Miami Heat.

He’s on pace to set an NBA rookie record for steals. Carter-Williams already has 33 — 20 more than Oladipo, who is second among rookies — which puts him on pace to finish with 234 if he plays in all of the Sixers’ remaining 67 games (he missed four games already with a foot injury). Dudley Bradley holds the rookie record of 211 in 1979-80 (Ron Harper had 209 and Mark Jackson had 205 in the 1980s).

At 3.0 spg, Carter-Williams already ranks among the league’s top thieves. He’s tied atop the NBA with Ricky Rubio in steals per game, and in total steals he ranks third, one behind Chris Paul, who has played three more games, and 12 behind Rubio, who has played in four more games.

Among rookies, none come close to Carter-Williams’ across-the-board production. He leads all first-year players in scoring at 17.3 ppg; Oladipo is next at 12.8 ppg. His 7.4 apg are tops with Milwaukee’s Nate Wolters next at 4.7. His 63 total rebounds rank third among rookies and tops among guards. His 10 blocks rank third among rooks; the top three are all centers.

Perhaps most impressive about Carter-Williams is simply the smoothness and poise of his game. He’s not rattled by the competition and he demonstrated that in the first game of his career against the two-time champion Heat with a near quadruple-double: 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals. Against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls he went for 26 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals.

He’s already produced three double-doubles, and as he improves his shooting percentage (40.0 from the floor through 11 games, although 36.2 percent from 3-point range), his scoring average will rise. He posted consecutive games of shooting at least 50 percent from the floor for the first time this season in his last two games.

Perhaps it is too early to simply anoint Carter-Williams as the Rookie of the Year, but the young man groomed two seasons at Syracuse is certainly stating his case with authority.

It’s Never Too Early To Make A Move


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson talks about sharing the backcourt with Victor Oladipo

The season isn’t even a month old, but there are some places where things are clearly not working and it’s already time for a change. Here are a handful of names that could or should be on the move:

Omer Asik, Rockets — At this point, he should have a moving van at the front door and his luggage packed. It’s only a matter of time before last year’s flavor of the season gets his wish and a ticket out of Houston. Despite his workmanlike double-double consistency in 2012-13, there’s no faulting the Rockets for leaping at the chance to upgrade to Dwight Howard. The twin towers experiment didn’t work. Asik is unlikely to be happy playing just the spare minutes available as a backup and it only makes sense to get the kind of piece missing — rugged, bruising big man or stretch 4 — that can be a more comfortable fit at both ends of the floor. It also wouldn’t hurt to unload that $15 million due next season to Asik. There are any number of places that Asik could help right away. New York and New Orleans immediately come to mind. GM Daryl Morey is in no rush and will pull the trigger when he’s ready on the right deal.

Jameer Nelson, Magic — The handwriting has been on the wall since the Magic made Victor Oladipo the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft and promptly announced going into summer league play that he would get a run at point guard. That message might as well have been spray-painted in Day-Glo orange on Saturday night when coach Jacque Vaughn removed the veteran Nelson from a winnable game against Dallas and let the rookie run the offense all the way to the end of a 108-100 loss. Oladipo, as uncomfortable as he may often look at the point, is the future of the franchise along with all of the other young parts. In a season when the Magic don’t really expect to win many games, it only makes sense to move Nelson and make the full-time commitment to the rookie. The fact that the $8 million on Nelson’s contract next season is a team option will only make him easier to move for another future asset.

Danny Granger, Pacers — The fact that Granger has not yet come back from a calf injury more than three weeks into the season hasn’t stopped the Pacers from running out to their league-best 10-1 record, which matches the Spurs. In fact, it could mean that coach Frank Vogel will have to disrupt the humming of a well-oiled machine when he eventually has to find the minutes and shots that Granger will surely want when he’s back in the lineup. Can he really afford to give up a single possession by MVP candidate Paul George? Lance Stephenson has fit quite well into the starting lineup. The Pacers pushed the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Granger last spring. By moving his desirable expiring contract they could add another valuable piece to the bench.

Thaddeus Young, 76ers — The long, versatile forward does not shoot well from behind the 3-point line, but does so many other things that make him desirable and valuable on the court. Considering the fact that the Sixers are still several years away under GM Sam Hinkie’s total reconstruction program, it doesn’t make sense to keep Young around for another $19 million over the next two seasons. Hinkie would probably like to get rid of Evan Turner first, but Young is the player that other clubs are most interested in and could bring in return the kind of asset that Philly wants and needs for the future.

Anybody But DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore, Kings — It might be time to set up the folding tables and the hand drawn price tags in the parking lot at Sleep Train Arena and hold a flea market to clean out the locker room. As Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out, the Kings have already benched Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson and are ready to make a full-time commitment to the future by sweeping the locker room clean. Cousins may have his own baggage, but he is putting up solid numbers of 21.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Despite all of the optimism that the “saved in Sacramento” Kings brought into this season under new coach Michael Malone, losing seven of their first nine games delivered a heavy dose of reality.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger speaks on Nov. 13 about progress with injury

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will to play tonight vs. Bobcats | Anthony: ‘We have to figure this out’ | Hakeem can’t wait to help Howard | Nelson gets minutes cut in Orlando

No. 1: D-Will cleared to rejoin Nets — Few teams this early in the season can match the talent/name-recognition level and disappointment that the Brooklyn Nets boast. Off to a 3-7 start and bringing up the caboose of the Atlantic Division with the New York Knicks, the Nets have lost five of their last six games and experienced most of their struggles without star point guard Deron Williams. Brooklyn got a dose of good news yesterday, though, with word that Williams’ troublesome ankle is feeling better and he will be able to play tonight against the Bobcats, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com. Center Brook Lopez may be back in the linup as well.:

The Nets’ starting point guard said he will play at Charlotte on Wednesday after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle. Williams injured his left ankle against Phoenix on Nov. 15 and hasn’t played since.

He practiced Tuesday and said there will be no restrictions on him when he returns.

“Nope,” Williams said when asked if there will be a minutes limit. “I’m going to play.”

The Nets (3-7) have lost five of their last six games and can use their top point guard back. Williams, who missed the majority of camp with a right ankle injury, is averaging 10 points and 6.5 assists per game this season.

“He looked good,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We had a good practice. Deron looked good.”

The Nets’ health is improving at a critical time, as they play five of their next seven on the road. Center Brook Lopez, who has also missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, said he feels good enough to play.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be, that’s not up to me,” said Lopez, who landed on teammate Kevin Garnett‘s foot during the Nets’ win over the Suns last Friday. “I feel good. I feel like I could play. I’m not the one calling the shots there. We’ve got to think about long-term.”

***

No. 2: Anthony: ‘Got to figure this out’ — In last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony lost his cool and was whistled for a technical foul in the third quarter and Amar’e Stoudemire was called for one, too, in the fourth quarter. As New York lost its third straight game, Anthony was left searching for answers as a big date with the Indiana Pacers looms tonight, wrties Anthony Rieber of Newsday:

After the Knicks fell to 3-7 with a 92-86 loss to the Pistons Tuesday night, a frustrated Carmelo Anthony was asked to assess just what the heck is going on.

“I don’t know,” Anthony said. “We’re losing. It’s a messed-up feeling. A hurt feeling. Got to figure it out. That’s the only thing I can say about this. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

How quick? By about 7 p.m. would be nice. That’s when the 9-1 Indiana Pacers will be at the Garden, where the Knicks are 1-5 this season. The Pacers, as you recall, knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs last season.

“I think right now it’s just a matter of wanting it more,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to want it more [Wednesday night], especially on our home court. There’s some bitter feelings, knowing that they knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so hopefully that gives us some momentum, some energy, some confidence and some anger to go out there and play with.”

With 4:09 left in the third quarter and the Knicks trailing by four, Anthony was called for the technical after missing a jumper. Anthony had been complaining all night about not getting calls when he was (in his opinion) fouled by the Pistons.

Less than a minute later, Anthony was called for an offensive foul. Then he blew past Andre Drummond (13 points, 11 rebounds) and hit a layup for what Anthony considered a foul and continuation for what could have been a three-point play.

But the ruling was a non-shooting foul and the basket didn’t count. A flabbergasted Anthony immediately walked to the bench. “It’s kind of hard when you’re out there dealing with that,” he said. “When you think things should be going your way and it’s not. Thinking something should be called but it’s not. I’ve got to fight through that.”

Stoudemire, who had six points in 15:07 and isn’t expected to play Wednesday night, was whistled for a technical for arguing as the Knicks appeared to be losing their cool.


VIDEO:
Anthony on Knicks’ struggles, lack of effort

***

No. 3: Olajuwon itching to help Howard — After Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets in the offseason, much was made (in this space and elsewhere) of his working with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to further polish his post moves. Since the start of the season, Howard’s offensive game has lagged and he has received plenty of criticism, with TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley being among the foremost ones. Our own Fran Blinebury caught up with Olajuwon, who is in his native Nigera to launch a basketball initiative for youth, about Howard’s play and more:

The Hall of Famer was speaking Tuesday from Nigeria, where he was helping to launch a basketball initiative for youth. Even from half a world away, though, Olajuwon was thinking about the struggles of his current pupil, Howard, who he mentored in the offseason after the big man signed a four-year, $88-million free agent contract with the Rockets, Olajuwon’s former team.

“The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who left Houston in early October to return to his home in Amman, Jordan and has been keeping track of his pupil on TV. “I wish he was doing a better job.

“Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.

“There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up. You must be the one making the first move so that you can force the defender to always be the one reacting.

“I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.”

Olajuwon, who was a .712 shooter on free throws through his 18-year NBA career, has cringed long distance while watching Howard make a career low .531 from the foul line this season.

“I think this is where a confident routines comes in,” Olajuwon said. “It’s not just putting in hours and hours of work. It’s getting a solid routine and staying with it. With Dwight right now, I think it’s more mental. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. Just trust your routine and let it go.

“I won’t say that you can’t ever win a championship as a big man if you don’t shoot free throws well, because Shaq did it four times. But it can be a deciding factor, so you want to fix it.”

***

No. 4: Nelson takes high road on playing time – In Orlando Magic history, only two players have played more games for the franchise than Jameer Nelson and no other player has as many assists in Orlando as Nelson does. In short, Nelson is and has been a great player for the Magic for years. But as the team moves into a younger phase and tries to get prized rookie Victor Oladipo more minutes at point guard, Nelson has seen his playing time crunched. Such was the case in a road loss to Dallas, where Nelson sat the final 17 minutes of the game in favor of Oladipo. Despite the playing time cut, Nelson is trying to stay as classy as possible about the move, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

Coach Jacque Vaughn kept Nelson on the bench throughout the final 17 minutes of Saturday night’s 108-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Vaughn employed rookie Victor Oladipo instead of Nelson at point guard even though Nelson had played well on offense and Oladipo was struggling with turnovers.

“The thing about it is, obviously, I want to play and I want to compete,” Nelson said Monday when he was asked about the situation.

“I’m a competitor and I want to win, so I wanted to be on the court. Coach decided not to play me, and that’s his decision. I can only play the minutes that he gives me, play them as hard as I can and leave it out there for those minutes. It’s his decision who’s going to play the minutes and when they’re going to play them. And our job as players is, like I said, to play those minutes as best we can.”

Nelson wants to remain with the Magic for years to come. At 31 years old, he should have at least several productive seasons ahead of him and would prefer to spend those seasons on the court instead of on the bench.

On Monday, Vaughn was asked whether he anticipates using Oladipo as the Magic’s primary ball-handler down the stretches of close games the rest of the season.

“It kind of depends,” Vaughn answered.

“A lot of times we’ve been playing with three guards in the rotation. There’s been times when he’s been in where Jameer is handling [the basketball]. I think that’ll be [determined by the] opposition and what opportunities we have on the floor. The ball was in [Oladipo's] hands against Dallas. We made them react to us. They started double-teaming him, and so we were able to dictate a little bit. So that was positive for us.”

Vaughn said he wanted to give Oladipo the experience of running the Magic offense during a close game, because those scenarios can’t be simulated in practice.

Team officials want to test Oladipo and determine over the course of the season whether he can be a fulltime point guard in the NBA. They believe Oladipo’s confidence can withstand rough outings, and they also believe he’ll improve as the season continues.

But the decision to play Oladipo over Nelson in the fourth quarter of a winnable matchup also opens the Magic to accusations that they are tanking games to enhance their chances of picking early in the talent-rich 2014 NBA Draft.

Magic officials still regard Nelson as one of their best leaders.

True to form, he said he won’t change his game or his demeanor.

“My game is still the same: to go out and attack and create things for myself or for my teammates and to lead and to do things in a professional manner,” Nelson said. “I’m going to continue to do that no matter what’s going on and what the speculations are and what people say. I’m still me and I’m still going to play like me.”


VIDEO:
Oladipo on playing point guard, facing the Heat next

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson is getting frustrated by his lingering ankle injury … Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova says he’s ready to return to the lineup

ICYMI Of The Night: The Suns’ Gerald Green just keeps one-upping himself with his in-game dunks this season, with last night’s make-sure-I-don’t-bang-my-face-on-the-backboard jam being the latest entry …


VIDEO: Gerald Green soars in for a spectacular one-handed slam