Posts Tagged ‘Zach Randolph’

More Excuses Than Answers For Grizzlies

It's been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It would be easy to blame all of the Grizzlies’ problems on the absence of center Marc Gasol, who is out with a sprained left knee.

It would be popular to blame them on CEO Jason Levien, who shoved Lionel Hollins, the best coach in franchise history, out the door and put David Joerger onto the hot seat.

It would be fun, just for old times sake, to blame Rudy Gay, who is already two teams down the road from his days as traditional whipping boy in Memphis.

Truth is, the Grizzlies have collectively been nothing but hound dogs since opening night of the 2013-14 season, showing little inclination to play with any of their former bark or bite.

“I wish I could pinpoint it,” said point guard Mike Conley. “I don’t want to make excuses for having a new coach or losing a coach. Obviously losing a guy that’s been here four or five years, it’s going to be tough on a lot of people. But us as players, we had to come back ready to play and with the mindset of wanting to get further than we did last year. Honestly, we didn’t do that, and so, here we are.”

That is sitting in last place in the Southwest Division, rubbing elbows with the Jazz and Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference standings instead of battling with playoff contenders.

The Grizzlies still labor to score points, especially from the perimeter. The No. 2 rated defense that used to have sharp claws and gave up 100.2 points per 100 possessions a year ago, is now ranked 24th in the NBA. In the last half-dozen games they have not guarded the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 43.7 percent behind the arc. They often look clueless and toothless, even at home at the FedExForum, their beloved Grind House, where they’ll take a 5-9 record into tonight’s game against the Lakers (8 ET, League Pass).

“Really, I think we’ve got to establish our identity,” Conley said. “We have lost that in a sense. That’s defensively being a team that goes out and grinds out wins and finds a way to win. We’ve got to get back to that old motto of stopping each individual person, taking it upon ourselves to go out there and play defense and work hard.”

Though troubles have been magnified with seven losses in 10 games since Gasol was injured on Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were hardly ferocious before that. In opening the season a middling 7-6, the Grizz lost at home to the Pelicans and Raptors. After losing Gasol, they’ve lost at home to a Rockets team playing without James Harden and to the Nets minus Deron Williams and Paul Pierce. They lost on Friday night to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis.

“We started off slow because we were just thinking too much,” Conley said. “We were thinking too much about the new offense, the management changes, whatever it may be. There was just a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with what we were doing on the court. We needed to zone out and we started playing well for about a week or so and then the big fella got hurt and injuries started playing a role. It’s just been an up and down season so far and we’ve got to find a way bring everything in.”

The Grizzlies show little cohesion or conviction with what they are trying to do on the court. The latest round of rumors that they’re trying to move power forward Zach Randolph’s big salary may also be enervating. Though he has 13 double-doubles on the season and Memphis is 7-0 when he leads the team in scoring, Z-Bo’s production has dropped off lately. Without Gasol to attract attention inside, defenses are swarming Randolph in the paint and over the past 10 games he’s made half of his shots just once.

Conley has had to become much more of a distributor in the offense without Gasol passing out of the post and his assists are up. But it has cut into his offense on a team that has precious little to spare.

It’s created an atmosphere at home like a balloon with a slow leak. The Grind House has often become an echo chamber of empty seats in a town where the hard-earned fan loyalty of recent playoff success does not run deep.

“It’s been tough for us to show up at the Grind House and not deliver,” Conley said. “That’s an area where we have to improve. We’ve got to understand that having a bad year or a bad month or two can sway fans one way or another in Memphis. What we built can go away fast.

“You can’t just come back and say you’re a Western Conference finals team. I think that’s what we have to realize. We have to go out there and work back up to that point. I do think still we’re capable of getting ourselves back into that shape. But as of today, we’re just not that same team.”

Z-Bo On Trade Rumors: “There Ain’t No Loyalty Or Love”


VIDEO: Zach Randolph gives a fan his shirt

NEW ORLEANS — The irony is not lost on Zach Randolph.

Just as he is being honored by Kia Motors and the NBA with the November Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, the rumor mill keeps churning out trade talk that the Grizzlies are looking to find him a new home. The latest has him going to the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson.

“Go figure,” Z-Bo said following the Grizzlies shootaround at New Orleans Arena on Friday. “Memphis is a place that I’ve come to love and call home and it’s where I would definitely like to retire. I haven’t made any secret of that. Everybody out there knows how I feel.

“I look at it like this: I understand it’s a business. I really do understand that. This is a small market team and money plays a factor. I understand all that. It’s different now. I don’t know if it’s just changes in (salary cap) rules or just a change in the way of the world. Like I said, it’s a business.

“But yeah, it bothers me. It hurts a little bit. I can’t deny that. But it goes to show you that there ain’t no loyalty in this game. It seems like you only get loyalty in certain organizations. You see it in winning organizations like the Spurs, the Lakers, the Heat.

“The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there. Hey, everybody gets traded. It’s part of the league, part of the life. I’ve been traded a bunch of times.”

But after his stints with the Trail Blazers, Knicks and Clippers, it was Randolph’s trade to the Grizzlies in 2009 that allowed him to blossom and become a two-time All-Star. Memphis is also where he earned the big contract that is scheduled to pay him $16.5 million next season unless he chooses to opt out in July.

“I’m not 19 or 20 no more,” Randolph said. “I’m not a young kid coming into the league with my career in front of me, looking to get established and looking to find my place in the NBA. I went through all of that. I feel like I grew up as a player and as a person and I’ve become someone who is valuable.

“I’m 32 now, but I feel like I’ve still got a few good years left in me and I feel like I can be somebody who can contribute to a winning team, be a significant part of team that can contend for a championship. And I think we can do that here. Even more, I feel like I’ve put down some roots in Memphis, helped this team make a name for itself, really become part of the community and to build something that can last. This is where I want to be and where I want to stay. All I can do is make that clear. But it’s a business and it ain’t my call.”

********

Kia Motors and the NBA honored Randolph for his continued dedication to helping underprivileged children and families in need. As a part of the NBA’s Season of Giving, Randolph distributed 900 Thanksgiving food baskets at Booker T. Washington High School and Hamilton High School in Memphis. At both events, select families received tickets from Randolph to attend an upcoming Grizzlies game. Randolph also donated 500 turkeys and 500 spiral hams to be given away to 1,000 people at the Clarence Faulkner Community Center in Marion, Ind. In addition to Thanksgiving meals, he contributed 300 winter coats to students at Memphis’ A.B. Hill Elementary.

“The award is nice, but it’s not the reason that I’m involved,” Randolph said. “I love being with kids, especially those kids who come from a single-parent home. I was one of those kids growing up, so I feel like I can relate. It’s a blessing for me to be able to help someone else, especially in Memphis, a place that has reached out and made me feel at home.”

Prior to Wednesday’s home game against the Thunder, he was presented with the David Robinson Plaque during an on-court ceremony. In addition, Kia and the NBA will donate $10,000 on Randolph’s behalf to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Knicks seek to add Lowry | Granger won’t return tonight | Report: Z-Bo on trading block | Gasol vents about role in D’Antoni’s offense | Lawson set to return tonight

No. 1: Reports: Knicks looking to work deal for Lowry — With guard Raymond Felton sidelined 2-3 weeks with a hamstring injury, the Knicks’ point guard depth chart consists of backups Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih, with the option to slide Iman Shumpert over to the point as well. That depth is apparently a concern for New York, especially given its putrid start to the season, and has the Knicks trying to work a deal for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. According to Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks may have some competition for Lowry, though:

The New York Knicks are pursuing Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry with a package of Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and a 2018 first-round draft pick, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks refused a Raptors proposal that would’ve included Iman Shumpert and Felton, sources told Yahoo Sports. Without a first-round pick or Shumpert, there is no traction for a deal. The Knicks have no appetite for including Shumpert or rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. in a package.

Knicks owner Jim Dolan is sensitive to the public perception that Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri bamboozled New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade, and the chance of getting panned for giving up too much in a deal for Lowry has become a hurdle in these talks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ujiri was the GM of the Denver Nuggets when he negotiated a deal that included Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Felton and Timofey Mozgov for a package that included Anthony, Chauncey Billups and a first-round draft pick.

Toronto is discussing deals for Lowry with an ever-growing list of teams, league sources said.

Several teams are pursuing Lowry, but the Knicks’ most direct competition for him could come from the Brooklyn Nets, who are also exploring the possibility of a deal, league sources said. Brooklyn has resisted the inclusion of its 2020 first-round pick in a package, nor one of its top young players, including rookie Mason Plumlee, sources said.

Toronto officials have been scouting and calling European contacts on Bojan Bogdanovic, a 24-year-old shooting guard with whom the Nets own the rights, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lowry has wanted a trade for most of the season and the Raptors became more motivated to move him after acquiring point guard Greivis Vasquez in a deal with the Sacramento Kings.

World Peace, who signed as free agent this summer, can’t be traded until Sunday, per league rules.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein also reports on the deal and says New York is reluctant to cough up a first-rounder for Lowry:

Yet it remains to be seen if the Raptors and Knicks can reach a consensus on deal terms this time, with Toronto said to be seeking two of the Knicks’ three best trade assets — Iman Shumpert, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and a future first-round pick — in addition to Raymond Felton in exchange for Lowry.

Sources told ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard on Thursday afternoon that the Knicks’ reluctance to include a first-round pick in the deal was among the factors holding things up.

The Knicks, sources say, appear willing to package one asset from the trio of Shumpert, Hardaway and a first-round pick to the Raptors along with Felton. But giving up two might prove too high a price for Lowry, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in July and can walk away for nothing at season’s end.

But the Knicks don’t possess a first-round pick they can offer Toronto, based on league rules, before 2018.

Sources say that the Raptors are intent on getting some value for Lowry despite his looming free-agent status. When it comes to the Knicks specifically, Toronto has adopted that stance based on the premise that it is not only providing New York with a clear upgrade at the point but also taking on Felton’s longer-term salary, with Felton owed nearly $8 million over the next two seasons after this one.


VIDEO: Raymond Felton discusses leg injury he suffered vs. Cavs

***

No. 2: Granger won’t return to lineup just yet — Before this week’s much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown, our own Steve Aschburner caught up with injured Pacers forward Danny Granger. The swingman told NBA.com that he could have returned to the lineup for Tuesday’s big game, but held off so as not to draw undue attention to himself and also because he simply wasn’t ready. At the time, Granger said he thought he could possibly return tonight against Charlotte, but that won’t be happening either, writes Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star:

Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger said he’s “literally day-to-day” with his return from an injured left calf, but today won’t be the day, he said after Thursday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I don’t like where I’m at with my timing and my rhythm and obviously my conditioning,” he said. “I don’t think I will (play) Friday.

“I practiced today, a full-on practice, but I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I dribbled the ball off my foot a couple of times, just things you do when you haven’t played. (I) lost the ball in transition on a pass. My rhythm isn’t there yet.”

Granger said he’s had no physical setback.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Just all game legs. I’m not going to go on the court until I’m ready.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Granger’s conditioning is as important to his return as the calf.

“He’s got to get back to all the things — conditioning, timing,” he said. “We’ll sit down and we’ll meet and figure out when the best time is.”

Granger looked solid in the portion of Thursday’s practice open to the media, cutting hard and defending with the same voracity his teammates have shown this season.

Granger practiced some with the first unit and spent time with the second too. After the Pacers beat Miami 90-84 on Tuesday, Heat forward LeBron James seemed to think Granger fit better with the second unit because of the first unit’s cohesiveness.

“They’re a starting-lineup team; plus-90 (in efficiency) for a reason,” James said.

If Granger returns and starts, Lance Stephenson would be the one to play off the bench. Granger said he is close to putting Vogel in a position to make a decision.

“By all means I could physically play, easily,” Granger said. “But like I said, it’s more of a rhythm thing. When you’re playing at those types of speeds you have to do it for a while to get used to it again.”

Granger said he’s played five-on-five the past two days. He said his shot hasn’t been compromised.

“The shot’s always there, it’s just getting your legs into the shot,” he said. “That’s where the conditioning comes in.

“There’s a big difference between shooting and running up and down the court four times and then shooting the jump shot. That’s what you have to condition your body for.”


VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vogel addresses Danny Granger’s delayed return

***

No. 3: Report: Grizz looking to deal Randolph — Memphis has struggled to find a rhythm all season, it seems, and at 10-11 finds itself clearly out of the playoff picture in the West. While the Grizz are hoping things will turn around once Marc Gasol returns from injury, talk is heating up in some sense regarding Gasol’s frontcourt partner in crime: Zach Randolph. According to Jared Zwerling of BleacherReport.com, Z-Bo’s name is being mentioned in a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans:

Several sources said the Grizzlies are currently shopping power forward Zach Randolph, and two of them are hearing there’s a destination and main trade piece involved: New Orleans and stretch-4 Ryan Anderson, who’s averaging a team-high 21.7 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting from three-point range.

“A trade centered around Randolph and Anderson should happen down the line this season,” one source said.

Randolph wants to stay put; he told ESPN.com last month that he would “like to retire (in Memphis).” In fact, he’s so committed to the city that on Wednesday the NBA presented him with the November Kia Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community.

But Randolph is 32—seven years older than Anderson—and the Grizzlies likely don’t want to pick up his expensive $16.9 million player option for 2014-15. They’re a capped-out team that sees promise in younger power forward Ed Davis, who’s a restricted free agent.

Through 21 games, the 10-11 Grizzlies are one of the worst scoring teams and are dead-last in three-pointers made (97). Anderson is leading the league in that category per game (3.7), 0.3 more than each of the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Because of Randolph’s $18.2 million current salary, the Pelicans’ incoming aggregate salaries would have to be within $5 million of the aggregate outgoing salaries going to the Grizzlies. Therefore, in addition to Anderson ($8.3 million), the Pelicans could consider including Al-Farouq Aminu ($3.7 million) and Austin Rivers ($2.3 million) in the deal. According to two sources, Rivers is unhappy with his playing time and would be open to a trade.

Rivers is only 21, and has been buried this season at the 2 position behind Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow. Sometimes a kid as talented as Rivers simply needs more reps.Speaking of Gordon, a source believes he will be traded this season in a move to wipe off the maximum deal he signed with the Phoenix Suns in 2012 (through 2016 with a player option), and to make Evans, who signed a long-term deal with the Pelicans this past summer, the starting shooting guard.

Update: On Thursday, another source commented on a potential Randolph-Anderson trade: “New Orleans is not sure if they want to pull the trigger. They are playing OK without Davis, so I don’t think they want to pull the trigger until they can see what they have at full strength.”

***

No. 4: Lakers’ Gasol blames D’Antoni’s system for struggles — Lakers forward Pau Gasol, an unrestricted free agent this summer, told our own Scott Howard-Cooper that he is more or less open to leaving L.A. this offseason. Gasol even seemed to warm up to the idea of returning to where his NBA career started, Memphis, to play alongside his brother Marc. The reason for Gasol’s desire to get out of L.A. can probably be directly traced to what he had to say after yesterday’s practice to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. Essentially, the long-standing lack of chemistry between Gasol and coach Mike D’Antoni — a topic that is apparently not broached between the two men — seems to be what’s pushing Gasol out of L.A.:

In one corner of the Lakers’ practice gym stood Pau Gasol, his constant smile pulled tight.

“The fact that I’m not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness,” he said. “When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity.”

About 30 feet away stood Mike D’Antoni, his constant smile disappearing.

“I can’t lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up,” he said.

Once the most embraced Laker, Gasol has become the most scorned. His reluctant offense and dissolvable defense have elicited a dark rumble from Staples Center fans every time he goes near the ball. He is shooting a career-low 42%, five opposing big men have already run over him to equal or top their career best in points, and everyone has been wondering when Pau Gasol is going to fight back.

On Thursday, in his own kindly way, he finally did.

In an interview before the team left to board a plane for Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, Gasol made clear what he usually only intimates. He said he believes his poor play is a result of his poor usage in D’Antoni’s system. He said he has come to the conclusion that he just doesn’t fit.

“This year hasn’t been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that’s not going to change any time soon,” he said.

So why hasn’t it been ideal?

“What do you think?” he said. “I’m not going to say anything, but it’s easy to see. You see a guy with a certain skill set, where does it fit better, where it doesn’t.”

When asked about D’Antoni’s sometimes pointed criticism of his toughness, Gasol shrugged.

“I don’t pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don’t give much credit to things like that,” he said.

When asked if D’Antoni has ever discussed this criticism with him directly, for the first time in the interview, Gasol sounded irked.

“Nope, zero. Nope, zero,” he said. “Like I said, it’s not ideal, but it is what it is.”

A few minutes later, in another part of the emptying gym, D’Antoni offered his own shrug and acknowledged he has never discussed his criticisms directly with Gasol.

“We know how he has to be,” D’Antoni said. “We talk, but he has to produce. He knows how to play, he knows what he has to do.”

He’s been beaten up here mentally, having been both traded and benched in the last three seasons. He’s also not aging ideally, with Kobe Bryant acknowledging Thursday that he counseled Gasol to consider adding to his game by losing some pounds.

“I told him I thought the thing that really helped me out, I dropped some weight,” Bryant said. “I told him he should probably measure it himself, see if that’s something he needs to do himself. As we get older, our metabolism slows, we quietly become a little heavy.”

To the human condition, add the D’Antoni condition, in which Gasol is being asked to play a system that really doesn’t suit him. It is perhaps an equation for the sort of tentativeness, even listlessness, that Gasol has shown even in the biggest of moments.

“Pau is a great guy, a great player, but the focus has gone away from him a little bit in the last few years,” D’Antoni said. “After a while it gets frustrating, you lose your confidence, you get a little nicked up here and there, you don’t battle through it, it’s tough.”

D’Antoni said he is confident Gasol will find himself. Gasol doesn’t seem so sure. He said he would never ask to leave a place that has mostly loved him during seven seasons and two championships, but, seriously, once they trade you once, can you ever feel settled again?

“I love being here, I love my teammates, I love the city … but [a trade] is a possibility,” Gasol said.

***

 

No. 5: Lawson should play tonight vs. Utah — Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson has been out of Denver’s lineup since Dec. 6, which is when he strained his left hamstring while playing against the Boston Celtics. Lawson has slowly been ramping up his participation in practice over the last week and seems to be ready for his return to the lineup against the Utah Jazz tonight, writes Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com:

Seeking an accurate report on the health of his starting point guard, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw issued a mandate for anyone defending Ty Lawson in practice Thursday.

Attack him and see what happens.

“I told the guys, ‘Don’t baby him. Go at him. That will let us know if he’s ready to play or not,’ ” Shaw said. “They did. They challenged him. He stepped up to it and I think proved to himself in his mind, he can make the stops and goes and things he needs to do.”

Barring any setback, Shaw expects to have Lawson back in the lineup when the Nuggets open a four-game homestand Friday night against the Utah Jazz.

“It felt good,” Lawson said after practice. “I’ll see if it gets sore tonight or (Friday) and make a decision.”

Lawson, who leads Denver in scoring and assists, has missed two straight games and wants to ensure he does not aggravate the injury by returning too soon.

“I felt something I had never felt before in my hamstring,” Lawson said. “I wanted to give it two or three days, try to practice once and then see what’s going on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Clippers forward Jared Dudley says if it were up to him, he’d bench himselfThe Detroit News has a great look back on the longest game in NBA history … New Raptors forward Patrick Patterson found out he was dealt to Toronto from Sacramento as he was going to the movies with his momKevin Durant has opened a restaurant in the Bricktown area of Oklahoma City …

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Back when Deron Williams and Chris Paul were on the Jazz and Hornets, respectively, they provided some of the best point guard showdowns in the NBA. They were up to their old tricks last night …


VIDEO: Deron Williams crosses up Chris Paul on his way to the basket


VIDEO: Chris Paul uses the crossover to free himself up from Deron Williams’ defense

Huge NBA Opening Week; And You Wanted To Wait Till Christmas?

VIDEO: The top plays from the NBA’s opening week

l

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Six nights. That’s all it took to remind yet again why we play the games, all 82, and why any claim of less being more is pure folly.

Why not November? I say.

As the 2011 lockout ushered in a reduced schedule of 66 games starting on Christmas Day and firing off a fan-pleasing crush of games nightly, a spark ignited into a full-blown media/Internet forest fire: Why not start every NBA season on Dec. 25?

Heck, no one’s paying attention in November, let alone a pre-Halloween slate. With the NFL and college football beast roaring, who’s got the attention span to cram in hoops, too?

So congratulations to the NBA for a wholly unpredictable and fascinating opening week that featured scintillating individual performances and take-that victories by teams who’ve been told they stink. And so the games are played. Yes, even in November.

There isn’t a more outrageous narrative than Philly’s 3-0 start that includes takedowns of the Heat and Bulls led by The Kid, Michael Carter-Williams. Our own John Schuhmann couldn’t help but unprecedentedly vault the Sixers from 29th to No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

While all will likely right itself before too long, one week in and we’ve got upside-down standings. The trifecta tankers — Philly, Phoenix and Orlando — are 7-2. Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York are 5-8.

Along with some fascinating upsets and  fast starts, we’ve seen a bevy of fantastic individual scoring and rebounding frenzies.

Here’s a quick look at some of the opening week’s wildly unpredictable highlights:

*  Carter-Williams has to sweep the Player of the Week honors for rookies and everybody else. In his season debut against Miami, he nearly notched a quadruple-double with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals. A fluke? A few nights later against the Bulls and the comeback kid Derrick  Rose, he dropped 26 points and 10 assists. Golden State, in Philly tonight (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), has been warned.

* You can probably name more traded Suns than current Suns, but they’re 2-1 and on Sunday pushed Oklahoma City to the brink in their home opener even with Russell Westbrook supercharging the evening with his unexpected return. By the way, he looked super-fast.

* Let’s not forget the Magic’s supposed bid for massive ping-pong-ball accumulation. Rookie Victor Oladipo has other plans. The Magic aren’t disappearing after two rousing victories over the improved Pelicans and (title-contending?) Nets by a combined 41 points to even their record at 2-2.

* The no-name Lakers bench crushed the star-studded Clippers’ starters in the fourth quarter in both teams’ opener.

* Chris Paul has stat lines of 42 points and 15 assists and 26 points and 10 assists.

* Kevin Love is all the way back, averaging 29.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg and 3.7 apg to help Minnesota start 3-0. He already has games of 31 and 17, and 34 and 15.

* The 2-1 Pistons’ front line is living up to expectations. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are walking double-doubles. Monroe has a 24 and 16 game under his belt and Drummond already has 15-and-12 and 12-and-16 games.

* Second-year Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson went off for 38 points on 15-for-19 shooting in 31 minutes.

*Kings center DeMarcus Cousins notched 31 points and 14 rebounds against the Nuggets.

* In the same game, Knicks center Tyson Chandler pulled down 19 rebounds and Bulls center Joakim Noah grabbed 15.

* In a battle of point guards, Steph Curry and CP3 combined for 80 points, 11 3-pointers, 24 assists and 17 turnovers.

* Also in the same game, Mavs forward Shawn Marion and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph posted matching stat lines of 21 points and 14 boards.

* Greg Oden dunked on his first offensive possession since Dec. 5, 2009.

* Dwight Howard is averaging 15.0 ppg and 17.0 rpg in three games. His 51 rebounds nearly double his free 26 throw attempts, of which he’s made half.

* Pelicans second-year center/forward Anthony Davis is taking this breakthrough stuff seriously, averaging 23.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg and 4.0 bpg. He has games of 25 points and six blocks, 26 points and 17 rebounds and 20 points and 12 boards.

There are even more big games to get to from Kevin Durant to Paul George to Monta Ellis to Nicolas Batum‘s apologetic triple-double, but in the interest of fair time, we must also get to the surprising (or in some instances the not-so-surprising, but still noteworthy) developments at the other end of the spectrum:

* The Nuggets, 0-2, and center JaVale McGee are not off to inspiring starts. This is supposed to be McGee’s big moment, but the 7-footer has averaged just 11.5 mpg and 5.0 ppg and 2.0 rpg despite starting both games.

* Raptors forward Rudy Gay again has a nice-looking scoring average (17.0 ppg), but just think what it might be if not for shooting 32.7 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.

* Rookie Nets head coach Jason Kidd served a two-game suspension stemming from his DUI situation and then got hammered by 21 points in his debut at Orlando.

* Memphis is in transition after the promotion of Dave Joerger following Lionel Hollins being shown the door. Joerger is credited as the architect of the Grizzlies’ stifling defense, yet even with a virtually unchanged roster, the defense is being picked apart, allowing more than 106 ppg.

* Detroit’s active big guys, Monroe and Drummond, are pushing high-dollar free-agent signee Josh Smith out to the perimeter. Smith likes to shoot the long ball, but averaging 7.3 attempts from back there is a bit much, especially when he’s making just 27.0 percent.

And you wanted to wait until Christmas? Bah!

Have Grizzlies Lost Their Bite?

VIDEO: The Grizzlies needed everything they had to get their only win of the year so far

j

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — “It gets late early out there.”

Yogi Berra was talking about the left field shadows at the old Yankee Stadium. But he could have been referring to the shadow of former coach Lionel Hollins in Memphis.

Not even a week into the 2013-14 season and there seems to be something missing from the Grizzlies. Teeth and claws.

Or as they call it at the FedEx Forum, “Grit and Grind.”

It’s unwise to read too much into just the first three sips from an 82-game regular season. Otherwise we’d be guzzling the Kool-Aid of the confounding 3-0 Sixers and already making hotel reservations for next June in always sunny Philadelphia.

But there are times when a few early leaks in the bucket could be cause for concern that the bottom might fall out.

The Grizzlies, who advanced to the Western Conference finals a season ago, have carried around a style and reputation as subtle as an anvil in their climb up the ranks of legitimate contenders. Yet the early returns have shown that anvil dropping onto their toes.

Were it not for a couple of timely jumpers by Tayshaun Prince in overtime on Friday that finally put down the Pistons, Memphis would be looking at an 0-3 start that might have some reaching for the panic button. As it is, it might not hurt to at least get a finger loosened up.

After an uninspiring 111-99 loss at Dallas Saturday, the Grizzlies have surrendered more than 100 points three times in three games. While on their way to winning a franchise record 56 times last season, the Grizzlies and their No. 2-rated defense allowed opponents to hit the century mark just 10 times in 82 tries.

That certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed within the locker room, as noted by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

“This ain’t us,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “I don’t know if we’re focusing on the offense or not, but we’re a defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. And another thing is we’ve got to come out faster.”

Yes, it is early. But the trend could bring out all of the fears that were left by management’s decision to let Hollins — the best coach in franchise history — walk out the door. While the thought was that rookie coach Dave Joerger would be able to put some juice into the Grizzlies offensive by getting more ball movement and a faster pace, it was not supposed to be at expense of their lockdown defense.

While the Memphis offense that had the slowest pace in the league a year ago has jumped from 17th to 13th through the opening weekend of the season, the defense has fallen from 100.3 (No. 2) to 109 (26th). Opponents’ shooting percentage is up overall, especially from behind the 3-point line. However the interior defense that is supposed to be anchored by the bruising play of Randolph and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, is being exploited regularly.

After after reeling in the Mavs with a stretch of solid defense in the middle of the game, too often the Grizzlies were simply trading baskets, giving up layups or committing interior fouls that produced a parade to the free-throw line.

“We didn’t come out and play with any force,” Joerger said. “They’re at home. You’ve got to come out and set the tone early. We did not do that. We did not defend. We didn’t cut hard.”

These are all the areas that were as much a part of the Grizzlies appearance in games as their jerseys and sneakers under Hollins. If he was often critical, sarcastic and demanding, it was because there was a purpose. If it was Tony Allen who gave their home court the “Grind House” nickname, it was Hollins who laid the foundation and planted the seeds in the front lawn.

When the Spurs eventually exploited Memphis’ lack of offensive firepower in their conference finals blitz, it was clear that an upgrade was needed in order for the Grizzlies to take the next step. Was adding 33-year-old Mike Miller enough? Definitely not if the defensive intensity was going to drop.

In a Western Conference race that has only become more crowded and contentious, the last thing the Grizzlies can afford to lose is their identity.

So with the shadow of Hollins looming, it might not be too early for the grit and grind to heed another old Yogi-ism:

“When you come to a fork in the road…take it.”

One Team, One Stat: Grizz Win With D, But Must Find More Shooting

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Memphis Grizzlies, who are looking to build on a trip to the Western Conference finals.

The basics
MEM Rank
W-L 56-26 t-5
Pace 91.1 29
OffRtg 101.7 18
DefRtg 97.4 2
NetRtg +4.2 8

The stat

94.3 - Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Grizzlies’ defense with Tony Allen on the floor.

The context

That’s the lowest on-court DefRtg of 263 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season. There’s no doubt that Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Whether he’s the most important defender on his team is another question.

As the anchor of the Grizzlies’ No. 2 defense (and a great one at that), Marc Gasol was more important. The defense suffered a hair more when Gasol stepped off the floor than it did when Allen stepped off, and Gasol played about 700 more minutes than Allen did last season.

Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince and even Zach Randolph played their roles in the Grizzlies’ defense too. When the post-trade starting lineup was on the floor, Memphis allowed a paltry 89.1 points per 100 possessions. Only one lineup — the Spurs’ starters — that played at least 200 minutes together was better defensively.

The lineup was particularly good at forcing turnovers. Overall, *the Grizzlies ranked second, forcing 16.9 turnovers per 100 possessions. With Allen and Conley on the floor together, they forced 18.4.

*The Clippers ranked first, forcing 17.2 turnovers per 100 possessions, but forced just 11.3 out of the Grizzlies in the playoffs.

Here some clips from a December game in which the Grizz forced the Mavericks — who had the third lowest turnover rate in the league — to cough it up 19 times in less than 34 minutes with Conley and Allen on the floor…


.

Offense, of course, is another story. The Grizz ranked 18th offensively in the regular season and scored just 93.4 points per 100 possessions in getting swept by the Spurs in the conference finals.

Gasol and Randolph are maybe the best high-low combination in the league and Conley is a water bug who can get to the basket, but Memphis has lacked the 3-point shooting needed for a top-10 offense. They ranked 24th in 3-point percentage and dead last in 3-pointers made last season.

Allen, who shot 56-for-193 (29 percent) from outside the paint last season, can be left alone on the perimeter. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Grizzlies were better offensively with Conley and Jerryd Bayless in the backcourt, but it’s amazing how much better they were offensively…

Grizzlies efficiency with Allen, Bayless and Conley

On the floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
All three 172 112.5 91.7 +20.7 +55
Only Allen & Conley 1,594 101.6 92.7 +8.9 +238
Only Bayless & Conley 472 109.4 103.5 +5.9 +95
Only Allen & Bayless 265 90.0 102.8 -12.8 -75

Of course the defense took a big step back in those minutes. And that’s why the Grizzlies couldn’t let Allen walk as a free agent this summer. He’s a huge part of their success and their grit-n-grind identity.

If the Grizz are to be a better team this season, they will have to find the right balance between more perimeter offense (from Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter) and the defense that made them who they are.

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

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Clips’ Hopes Of Contending Depends On Defense Of Jordan, Griffin

.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that won 17 straight games and finished with the league’s fifth-best record last season, made some upgrades this summer in an effort to turn themselves into true title contenders.

On the bench, Vinny Del Negro was replaced by Doc Rivers. And in the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler were replaced by J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

But if the Clippers are to compete for a championship this season, they will need improvement from within, specifically with starting big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who will need to make up for some lost defense on the bench.

L.A.’s bench delivered

One thing that gets overlooked in the Clippers’ rehaul is that they had an excellent second unit last season. Their starters were terrific, but they suffered little drop-off when they went to their bench.

Clippers efficiency, 2012-13

Lineups MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
*Starting lineups 982 91.9 112.8 103.4 +9.5 +181
Other lineups 2,960 94.2 106.0 100.2 +5.8 +348
Total 3,942 93.7 107.7 101.0 +6.7 +529

* Paul, Butler, Griffin, Jordan and either Billups or Green
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Clippers’ starting unit was ridiculously good offensively, but slightly below average defensively. And though their bench struggled to score (it basically depended on Jamal Crawford‘s one-on-one ability), it still built on leads because it was so good on D.

In general, bench units are going to be better defensively than starting units because they’re going against other reserves. But the Clippers’ second most used lineup in the regular season, comprised of all reserves, was the third-best defensive unit in the league (minimum of 200 minutes played).

Three members of that unit are gone. Eric Bledsoe is in Phoenix, Ronny Turiaf is in Minnesota, and Lamar Odom is in NBA limbo as he deals with whatever off-court issues he has.

The importance of Odom

Here’s the thing about Odom last season. He was a disaster offensively (and was the season before that), but was a big part of the Clippers’ defensive improvement. L.A. went from 20th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to ninth last season. Their bench — particularly the big men — provided the strongest D.

In 821 minutes with Odom on the floor with either Turiaf or Ryan Hollins, the Clips allowed less than 91 points per 100 possessions. That’s elite defense no matter who the opponent is. No two-man combination in the league that played at least 450 minutes together had a lower on-court DefRtg than Odom and Turiaf.

On-court efficiency, Clippers big man combinations (min. 100 minutes)

Combination GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Griffin + Jordan 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Griffin + Odom 66 502 105.7 97.9 +7.8 +114
Odom + Turiaf 53 479 100.0 91.0 +9.0 +56
Odom + Hollins 41 343 111.4 90.8 +20.6 +118
Odom + Jordan 34 166 99.3 104.6 -5.3 -16
Turiaf + Hollins 32 148 85.6 104.7 -19.1 -45
Griffin + Hollins 26 133 106.1 111.5 -5.4 -13

Why Jordan, Griffin must improve

The Clippers’ starting lineup — with Willie Green at the two — was one of the best offensive lineups in the league. Although Jordan can’t shoot at all and Griffin’s mid-range jumper still needs work, that unit scored at a rate better than the Heat’s No. 1 offense. No lineup that was on the floor for nearly as much time scored as efficiently, and great offense can make up for mediocre defense, especially in the regular season.

But there are reasons why Griffin and Jordan need to get better defensively …

1. In the postseason, it’s better to be a great defensive team than a great offensive team. Over the last 12 seasons, 23 of the 24 teams that have reached The Finals have ranked in the top 10 defensively and 15 of the 24 have ranked in the top five defensively. Only 17 of the 24 have ranked in the top 10 offensively and only eight of the 24 have ranked in the top five offensively.

2. Odom and Turiaf have been replaced by Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, two defensive liabilities (to put it lightly). The Clips’ bench won’t be nearly as good defensively as it was last season. If L.A. wants to remain in the top 10 on that end of the floor, the starters must make up for the drop-off.

3. The Clippers were just awful defensively in the playoffs, allowing the Grizzlies — who ranked 18th offensively in the regular season — to score almost 110 points per 100 possessions over six games. The only team that was worse defensively last postseason was the short-handed Lakers, who got trounced by San Antonio.

How Memphis exposed L.A.’s bigs

The problems in that series started with the Clippers’ inability to force turnovers and continued with their inability to keep the Grizzlies off the foul line.

Clippers defense, 2012-13

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Reg. sea. 46.8% 6 37.3% 26 73.5% 15 17.2% 1 .306 29
Playoffs 48.5% 9 32.5% 5 73.3% 12 11.3% 15 .451 16

DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Though it was a slow-paced series, the Grizzlies — a team not known for getting to the line — attempted over 34 free throws per game, 13 more than they averaged in the regular season. They shot better than 50 percent from the field in two of their wins, but 38 trips to the line in allowed them to be nearly as efficient in Game 3, when they shot just 39 percent.

All five L.A. bigs averaged at least six fouls per 48 minutes in the series, with Hollins and Turiaf totaling an incredible 24 fouls in just 96 minutes. Griffin fouled out of Game 1 and committed five fouls in Game 3. Jordan had three fouls in just 17 minutes in that same Game 3.

The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is a tough matchup for any frontline. But the Clipper bigs got worked over, especially in the post …



Where Jordan and Griffin can improve

Griffin and Jordan aren’t terrible defenders. They both rank as “very good” on pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And when it came to rotations and team defense, Butler was a bigger liability in that starting lineup. L.A. was better defensively with Barnes at small forward with the other starters.

But the bigs aren’t great and their defensive focus and energy comes and goes. When guarding a big who faces up in the post, they often fail to contest his jumper or bite on his pump fake. And though they might contain an initial pick-and-roll, they don’t necessarily bring the second and third efforts needed against an offense that knows how to execute …


Both Odom and Turiaf ranked higher on pick-and-roll D and on post defense, where Griffin and Jordan rated as just “good” by Synergy in the regular season … and “poor” in the playoffs. The Grizzlies scored 69 points on 61 post-ups against the pair over the six games.

Overall, the Griffin-Jordan combo just didn’t measure up defensively to the big man pairings on other Western Conference contenders …

On-court efficiency, starting bigs, West playoff teams

Combination (Team) GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Duncan + Splitter (SAS) 60 819 106.0 92.7 +13.3 +208
Randolph + Gasol (MEM) 74 1,923 102.6 95.5 +7.1 +322
Ibaka + Perkins (OKC) 76 1,721 109.8 98.0 +11.8 +349
Faried + Koufos (DEN) 79 1,235 106.7 101.9 +4.8 +126
Bogut + Lee (GSW) 31 720 106.7 103.0 +3.7 +50
Griffin + Jordan (LAC) 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Gasol + Howard (LAL) 46 994 103.5 104.2 -0.7 -19
Patterson + Asik (HOU) 46 797 108.3 104.8 +3.6 +78

The Clippers will again be competing with the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies, three teams with bigs they can count on defensively. The Rockets have (a healthier) Dwight Howard and the Warriors could have a healthy Andrew Bogut.

Rivers was the coach of the league’s best defensive team of the last six seasons, and this team will likely be the best offensive one he’s ever led. But he’s not bringing Kevin Garnett with him from Boston.

The tools are there for Griffin and Jordan to improve. They have as much athleticism and mobility as any frontline in the league. But it takes a lot more than that to be an elite defender.

Jordan spoke about being a better communicator earlier this summer, and that’s a step in the right direction. But discipline, focus and sustained effort must also be priorities.

The Clips don’t need either guy to turn into Garnett. But if they’re to be included as one of the West teams that could be in The Finals next June, their starting bigs need to go from good to great defensively … especially since they won’t have as much help from their back-ups.

West Guards Set Up For All-Star Snub

It could be harder for Steph Curry (left) or Ricky Rubio to get their a taste of the bright lights of All-Star selection.

It could be harder for Steph Curry (left) or Ricky Rubio to get a taste of the bright lights of All-Star selection.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Remember when Steph Curry got the All-Star snub? Charles Barkley was darn well hacked off: “For them to leave Steph Curry off that team, it’s a joke; it’s a flat-out joke.”

Curry’s coach Mark Jackson also wasn’t amused by “them,” his Western Conference peers who pick the reserves, even with Golden State Warriors forward David Lee getting the nod:

“We know who the jurors are,” Jackson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think you have to question the process. I’m not going to go all Dr. King on us, but you’ve got to stand for what’s right, man. These guys have changed this whole organization. They have led. They have sacrificed. They have defended. They have competed.”

West coaches really might need to take cover this year. Barring injuries or unforeseen awful seasons, those 15 coaches will be locked in a no-win pickle to select the backup “backcourt” players.

Maybe this year Lee gets the snub, or some other “frontcourt” player like Zach Randolph or Tim Duncan (everyone thought he was done after his 2012 omission anyway, right?) to make room for an extra guard or two because there is going to be an absolutely outrageously long list of sure-fire or close-to-it All-Star guards.

The 2013 All-Star team featured five guards on the 12-man roster: Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant as the fan-voted starters, with Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and first-timer James Harden as the coach-selected reserves.

Which one of those guys slides and doesn’t make the 2014 team? Kobe’s coming off Achilles surgery and his return date remains uncertain. Still, he’s expected back well before the All-Star Game and no matter how he fares it’s far-fetched to think fans won’t vote him in for a 16th consecutive start. Just go ahead and pencil in the L.A. boys as starters again.

Will Westbrook falter coming off his knee surgery? Doubtful. Could Parker, a five-time All-Star who has played his best ball over the last two seasons, slip? Possible, I suppose, if Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rests him from Christmas Day to MLK Day.

Here’s the thing: Even if one of those guys slide, the list of replacements is excessive, starting with the Warriors’ Curry, whose trajectory is just now starting to mirror that of the space shuttle upon liftoff. Seven of the West’s eight playoff teams from last season boast an All-Star-caliber point guard or shooting guard. Memphis point Mike Conley is gaining steam and it’s possible his 2012-13 numbers, a career-best of 14.6 pgg (and 2.2 spg, third overall) and 6.1 apg, could rise in a faster-paced offense under first-year coach Dave Joerger. Denver’s speed merchant Ty Lawson was a bubble guy in ’12, but he might be in for quite the transition with blow-it-out George Karl‘s departure probably ushering in more traditional sets under rookie coach Brian Shaw.

Still, the list rolls on…

Three West lottery teams offer undeniable candidates: Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio, who is poised for a breakout after last season’s tough return from ACL surgery; Portland’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who has reinforcements this year that should help him get even better; and West newcomer and Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who, oh yeah, was a first-time All-Star last season in that other conference with the 76ers.

Want more? Eric Bledsoe, stashed behind CP3 these last two seasons in Clipperland, is primed to bust out in the Valley of the Suns; Andre Iguodala, a 2012 All-Star, can’t be counted out with the Warriors, unless sharpshooter Klay Thompson beats him out; and Monta Ellis, an All-Star in his own mind even if he’s yet to wear the uniform, could be in for a big year in Dallas feeding off 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (who just might want his “frontcourt” spot back).

Oh wait, did I mention that eight-time All-Star Steve Nash, who turns 40 a week before the All-Star Game, made the team in 2008, ’10 and ’12?

Obviously he’s due in ’14. Right?

Best of luck, coaches. And be prepared to duck.

Top 10 Stat Lines of 2012-13

By Jonathan Hartzell, for NBA.com

If you look near the benches after every timeout, and especially after each game, you will see a floor littered with stat sheets. Usually these white pieces of paper show pretty unremarkable lines for players and instead are used to gauge the team as a whole. But on some nights, individual stat lines stand out from the rest and allow us to see who is truly outstanding.

Here are the top 10 stat lines of the 2012-13 season:

10. Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers

December 16, 2012 vs. New Orleans Hornets – 11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 blocks

 

A 5/5/5/5/5 stat line is incredibly rare in the NBA, with it only occurring 15 times since the 1985-86 season. But the feat Batum accomplished against the New Orleans Hornets of 10/10/5/5/5 is an even more uncommon stat line with Jamal Tinsley in 2001 being the only other time it has occurred. Batum is the prototypical player to accomplish this type of box score with his all-around game which allows him to have the length to block shots as well as the speed to steal. The Trail Blazers won the game 95-94 over the Hornets thanks to a game-winning jumper from Damian Lillard.

9. Samuel Dalembert, Milwaukee Bucks

February 5, 2013 at Denver Nuggets – 35 points, 12 rebounds, 17-21 FG

 

This game came out of nowhere for Dalembert. The Bucks big man saw only six minutes of playing time in the Milwaukee’s previous game and the only reason he got into this game against the Nuggets was early foul trouble to Larry Sanders. But Dalembert jumped on his opportunity and exploded for 35 points on 17-of-21 shooting. He made his first nine shots and finished the first half with 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting. Dalembert did a great job, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fluke game from anyone this season.  The Nuggets beat the Bucks 112-104.

8. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

April 2, 2013 at Miami Heat – 50 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds on 18-26 FG and 7-10 3P

 

Anthony put on a scoring show against the Miami Heat, who were without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in early April. This game could be higher on the list if Anthony collected stats in anything else besides points, but he didn’t. It was Anthony’s third 50-point game of his career and his first since 2011. The Knicks defeated the Heat 102-90.

7. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

December 31, 2012 vs. Miami Heat – 20 points, 29 rebounds (11 off., 18 def.), 2 blocks, 3 steals

 

The last day of 2012 was a special one for Vucevic as he became the first player to score 20 points, grab at least 29 rebounds, and block 2 shots since Dikembe Mutombo in 2011, and only the fifth player to do it since 1985-86. This feat becomes even more special when you factor in that Vucevic is just 22 years old. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see him put up lines similar to this more often as his career progresses. The Heat defeated the Magic 112-110.

6. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

December 4, 2012 vs. Phoenix Suns – 38 points, 22 rebounds, 3 blocks, 15-22 FG, 8-8 FT

 

This was the only game Randolph reached the 30-point mark all season and he decided to also grab 22 rebounds while he was at it. He is only the third player to accomplish this box score of at least 38 points, 22 rebounds, and 3 blocks since 1985-86 and his 15-of-22 shooting was the best shooting night of his career. The Grizzlies beat the Suns by a score of 108-98.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

January 18, 2013 at Dallas Mavericks – 52 points, 9 rebounds, 21-21 FT

 

52 points is special, but what Durant did at the free-throw line is what’s incredibly rare about this box score. A perfect night from the stripe with more than 21 attempts has occurred just two other times since 1963-64. Even though Durant benefited from the game going into overtime, his ability to draw fouls and consistently connect at the line is a rare combination. Durant led the league in free-throw percentage last season at 90.5 percent while also being second in free-throw attempts. The Thunder beat the Mavericks 117-114 in overtime.

4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

March 6, 2013 at New Orleans Hornets – 42 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, 14-21 FG

 

Bryant has collected at least 40 points and 12 assists only twice in his Hall-of-Fame career. And he did it in back-to-back games last season. The first occurrence was this game against the Hornets, where Bryant erupted to score 13 of his 42 points during a 20-0 run to lead the Lakers back from a 25-point deficit. He played like classic Kobe and forced many to momentarily forget the disappointment of the Lakers’ 2012-13 season. The Lakers defeated the Hornets 108-102.

3. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

February 28, 2013 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 23 points, 21 rebounds, 11 blocks

 

Take a moment to look back at Noah’s box score again. A 20-20 game is impressive in itself, but you get an historic box score when you also add in 11 blocks. This 20-20-10 feat has been accomplished by only Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn Bradley, and, now, Noah since 1985-86. And of that group, Noah blew them all away in shooting percentage as he went 8-of-12 shooting and 7-of-9 from the line. As Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game, “He was spectacular.” The Bulls beat the 76ers 93-82.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

February 27, 2013 at New York Knicks – 54 points, 11-13 3P, 7 assists, 6 rebounds

 

This could easily be labeled as the game which Stephen Curry emerged as a star in the NBA. His 54 points is the fifth highest scoring game for an opposing player in Madison Square Garden and the four players in front of him are a special group: Michael Jordan, Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bryant. And none of those four players also recorded 7 assists during their scoring outburst. He was simply in another zone and it was a privilege to watch. This box score would be No. 1 if the Warriors did not lose the game to the Knicks 109-105.

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat

February 26, 2013 vs. Sacramento Kings – 40 points, 16 assists, 8 rebounds, 14-23 FG

 

The most incredible thing about this box score from James is it doesn’t seem too remarkable for his standards. However, a stat line of 40 points with at least 16 assists and 8 rebounds had never occurred in the NBA before this game. James benefited from his opponent being the hapless Kings along with teammate Dwyane Wade pouring in 39 points. But neither of those factors should diminish the remarkable statistics he collected in late February to help the Heat beat the Kings 141-129.