TrueHoop: Brandon Jennings

Sources: Hawks, Mavs still in Bynum hunt, for now

By Marc Stein | July 9, 2:12 a.m. ET

Andrew Bynum, to this point, has not canceled his scheduled recruiting visits this week in Atlanta and Dallas despite receiving a two-year offer from Cleveland worth an incentive-laden $12 million annually.

Which is to say that the Hawks and Mavs, for the moment, are still in the game.

Yet sources close to the process tell ESPN.com that the Cavs are mostly worried about Dallas in the Bynum chase and have thus tried to construct an offer that the Mavs can't touch while likewise doing no harm to their long-planned bid to try to bring LeBron James back to Ohio in free agency in the summer of 2014.

The Cavs would hold a team option in the second year of the proposed deal, which they feel would provide the needed flexibility to either keep Bynum if he bounces back in a big way or part ways with him if Bynum's famously shaky knees don't hold up.

Why are the Cavs, as reported here Sunday night, willing to extend themselves to such a degree for a player who didn't play a single second in Philadelphia last season and couldn't have been abandoned faster by the Sixers? Word is Cleveland sees this as a unique opportunity, given how rarely former All-Star centers become available -- especially at age 25 -- as well as gettable for a franchise not exactly known for its free-agent pull.

Sources: Brandon Jennings for Jeff Teague?

By Marc Stein | July 8, 2:52 a.m. ET

Word began to circulate late Sunday that the Denver Nuggets were closing in on a verbal agreement with free-agent shooting guard Randy Foye.

And that initially seemed to signal that the Atlanta Hawks' lead in the race to sign Monta Ellis, as detailed here late Saturday, has only widened.

However ...

An alternate scenario began to make the rounds as Sunday bled into Monday suggesting that a far wilder set of moves could soon follow and involve Atlanta as well as Milwaukee, Sacramento and possibly Cleveland.

Sources briefed on the situation told ESPN.com that the Hawks and Bucks have in recent days discussed a sign-and-trade deal to land Brandon Jennings in Atlanta and send fellow restricted free agent Jeff Teague to Milwaukee to reunite with former Hawks coach Larry Drew. ESPN.com reported early in free agency that the Bucks, at Drew's behest, had interest.

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

Sources say that the Kings, meanwhile, have been shopping the likes of Jimmer Fredette and Chuck Hayes to the Cavaliers to create the requisite salary-cap room to try to sign Ellis comfortably. Hard to see Cleveland wanting Hayes, whose contract runs through 2014-15 and thus potentially would cut into Cleveland's reserves earmarked for a free-agent run at LeBron James next summer. Fredette's $2.4 million salary is a virtual expiring deal.

Yet the closest thing to a lock regarding all of the above, as Week 2 of NBA free agency begins, is that Foye coming to terms with Denver would essentially take the Nuggets out of the Ellis hunt. If the Nuggets strike a deal with Foye, that's essentially an admission that Ellis is out of their price range.

Jennings: Not looking to leave Bucks

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
6:58
PM ET
By ESPN.com news services
ESPN.com
Archive
Brandon Jennings said Wednesday he's not looking to leave the Milwaukee Bucks, despite an ESPN.com story that said he has "irreconcilable differences" with the club.

ESPN.com, in an analysis story on 10 NBA players who could be traded, cited sources as saying Jennings is frustrated. One source called it "irreconcilable differences" and said Jennings wants to be moved before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

"That is not true," Jennings said in a text message to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard when asked if his relationship with the Bucks is beyond repair. "Just because I got a new agent doesn't mean anything. That stuff never came out of my mouth. They're just reaching for a story since I changed my agent [to Jeff Schwartz]."

ESPN.com said it stands by its reporting.

A year ago, Jennings told ESPN.com that he was "doing [his] homework on big-market teams." Since then, Jennings' long-term status in Milwaukee has been the subject of speculation among league insiders, and when Jennings left agent Bill Duffy, the rumors swirled again about whether the guard is unhappy with the Bucks. The Bucks offered Jennings a four-year, $40 million extension, according to sources, but he turned it down. He will become a restricted free agent this summer.


Read the full story here »

To see dozens of NBA trade rumors, check out NBA Rumor Central Insider

The Bucks: Respectable to a fault

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
3:09
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are catalysts for the mildly surprising and watchable 13-10 Bucks.

The most vital tasks for any NBA franchise can be boiled down to recruitment and/or retention.

We can talk about the culture of an organization, its commitment to player development, and a ton of other ancillary qualities -- all of which have real value to a franchise. But ultimately, success comes down to a team’s ability to recruit the best talent, either through the draft or free agency, and retain those players’ services when they reach free agency. With precious few exceptions, teams need stars (preferably superstars) to contend, and if you’re not putting at least one on the floor, the ceiling for success is limited.

Fans in big coastal markets can’t really grasp how tough the Milwaukee Bucks have it in this regard. Milwaukee is a small, cold-weather market in an era when NBA players are more mindful than ever about what kind of city they want to live in and use as a platform to build a personal brand. For reasons fair -- and probably also a little unfair -- that recruitment and retention piece is a tough nut for the Bucks.

They can accumulate swaths of cap space, but have little hope that a top-15 player would accept a max contract to play in Milwaukee. Their most marketable player, the brand-conscious Brandon Jennings, probably will see the Bucks match an offer sheet next offseason. Jennings is more diplomatic than Eric Gordon, but you can imagine the feeling about staying in a Bucks’ uniform for four more seasons won’t exactly be giddy.

Adverse conditions aside, on most nights the 13-10 Bucks are a compelling on-court product. Jennings and Monta Ellis compose the Bucks’ speedy, dynamic backcourt. Both continue to post negative on-court/off-court numbers that show the team is more productive when they’re not on the floor (side note: Are we sleeping on Beno Udrih, who has been a savant the past two seasons, according to this metric?).

But offensively, both are a blast to watch and rank as the best starting ankle-breaking duo in the league (Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford take the overall honors when they share the floor in Los Angeles). Jennings and Ellis also have been driving forces behind pushing the ball for the Bucks, who rank sixth in the league in pace factor. That tempo hasn’t translated into results for the NBA’s 24th-ranked offense, but if you have to endure some inefficiency, watching Jennings and Ellis beats the plodding Sixers or Pistons as sheer entertainment.

The Bucks still make their living defensively, where they rank 11th in efficiency going into Wednesday night’s game at Memphis. Recognizing that the league pays a premium for offensive players and that many of them prefer glitzier destinations, general manager John Hammond has accumulated top-flight defenders and young guys with the potential to mature in that direction.

There are NBA defenses we appreciate for their proficiency, and then there are others who are downright fun to watch (think this season’s Clippers) because defenders swat shots, stuff guys at the rim, pick pockets that lead to fast breaks and generally wreak havoc. There’s always the potential for something exciting whose appeal is far greater to viewers than a well-executed defensive stop.

The Bucks are right there. They force turnovers at a higher rate than all but the Clippers, Hawks and Grizzlies. Hoopdata has a cool stat called “defensive play rates” -- a ratio of how many opponents’ possessions end in a block, steal or charge. The Bucks and Clippers own that stat, and it’s not a surprise.

Jennings is an inveterate gambler and thief. In Milwaukee’s recent big road win at Brooklyn, he recorded five steals in the half court. Jennings is a master at watching a ball handler’s eyes, eagerly waiting for the moment his man will avert his eyes away from Jennings to scan the court. When that happens, Jennings pounces. He jumps passing lanes and anticipates handoffs, when he squeezes between the QB and the running back to snatch the ball away. Jennings pokes, prods and jumps on outlet passes.


esse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesEkpe Udoh and Larry Sanders: Tree people
Over time, are these house bets? The numbers suggest they might be, but Jennings brings an unpredictability to the game that’s alluring.

In contrast to the iffy numbers hanging over the Bucks’ two scoring guards, the wings (Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels) carry the workaday responsibilities of stunting perimeter scorers and diverting guys to places on the floor they don’t want to go.

Meanwhile the young bigs, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, are maturing defensively at a staggering rate. In only their third seasons, they have developed into savvy, menacing pick-and-roll defenders.

Scott Skiles has his centers drop into the paint when ball handlers burst off a high pick, but unlike a lot of big guys who backpedal with the nervous look of a matador, Sanders and Udoh play angles and slide with ease between driver and basket -- especially Udoh. As a result, guards rarely get direct routes to the hoop and clean looks at the rim. Often those attempts get sent back at the shooters, as both Sanders and Udoh rank in the top 20 in block rate.

The Bucks have a few other nice assets up front. They feature rookie John Henson as yet another potential defensive ace, while Samuel Dalembert -- though he’s seen vastly reduced playing time -- is still a useful guy to have around.

Ersan Ilyasova has had a bumpy start to the season, but was widely praised as a solid offseason re-signing that gives the Bucks another look at the power forward spot, where Mbah a Moute also plays. Ilyasova has shown signs of life recently, and projects to improve over the winter.

Then there’s 6-foot-8 Tobias Harris (recovering from a laceration on his arm), who looks like a keeper.

We can’t fairly classify Milwaukee as Jazzian, at least not yet, but it’s a deep frontcourt that will keep the Bucks in the East's middle class and a possible low seed this spring.

Therein lies the rub for Milwaukee. The team suffers from lackluster attendance, and Bradley Center hardly offers fans the most cutting-edge production value. To compensate, ownership has made respectability a priority. For a team that desperately needs to find talent through the draft, that presents a serious conundrum. It’s not impossible to find future offensive stars in the middle of the first round, but it’s considerably more difficult.

Some remotely positive scenarios exist. The Bucks could find a star in the middle of the first round, or absorb some big-name players from teams looking for a trading partner to take on money and who are willing to throw a draft pick Milwaukee’s way for the trouble. They can hope Jennings develops into a top pick-and-roll practitioner who can cultivate a rapport with a couple of those bigs and improve his ability to finish at the rim. And to establish a top 5 defense they can pair with a better-than-average offense -- a combination that’s been known to get a few teams into the latter days of the postseason.

So the front office is in a bit of a bind, a similar type of dynamic that existed in Houston for a few years. They live in the NBA’s purgatory, a world where a promise to be a competitive squad under a capable coach works against a team because the NBA’s inefficient system punishes overachievement for middling teams. Every time the Bucks unearth a useful but non-elite ballplayer, they pick up a win or two and consign themselves to the treadmill.

Shot-chart stories: Jennings, Williams, Bulls

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
12:40
AM ET
By Evan Kaplan, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Brandon Jennings connects from deep
Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings tied his season-high with seven made field goals from at least 15 feet in his 34-point effort in Tuesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers.
Over his previous six games Jennings was shooting only 27 percent from 15 feet and beyond and was averaging 0.73 points per field goal attempt on those shots.

But Tuesday he was 7-for-12 from that distance and cashed in at a rate of 1.33 points per field goal attempt.

Jennings is now shooting 39 percent for the season from 15 feet and beyond, which if maintained for the rest of the season would be the best rate for his career. He shot 35 percent from that distance last season.

Williams still not comfortable
Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams fell to 0-3 in meetings against his former team, the Utah Jazz. Williams was 5-for-12 from the field for 14 points in a two-point loss.

Williams spoke Monday about his lack of comfort in the Nets offense. Part of the reason he is struggling this season is his outside shooting.

Williams was 0-for-3 from the 3-point line and 2-for-8 (25.0 percent) from 10 feet and beyond on Tuesday. He is shooting 29 percent from the 3-point line and 32 percent from at least 10 feet this season, both of which would be career-lows if maintained for a full season.

Among players that have taken at least 100 shots from 10 feet or longer this season, Williams ranks in the bottom 10 percent in the NBA in field-goal percentage.

Bulls good enough in the paint
The Chicago Bulls outscored the Boston Celtics 48-36 in the paint in Tuesday’s win.

The Bulls are 9-3 this season when scoring more paint points than their opponent.

Of those 24 Bulls field goals noted above, 22 were from inside five feet, one shy of their season high.

They did so against a Celtics defense that has been vulnerable. Boston has allowed 100+ pts in each of its last four games, matches its longest streak this season

Monday Bullets

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
3:08
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
  • SI's Zach Lowe breaks down the financials of Serge Ibaka's $48 million dollar extension, and what they mean for James Harden: "If Harden gets that max deal from Oklahoma City, the Thunder will be paying the tax for at least the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Assuming a max deal for Harden and that Oklahoma City gets the No. 30 pick in each of the next two drafts, the Thunder would be set to have about $75.5 million committed to 10 players in 2013-14 and $77 million committed to the same number of players in 2014-15. Fill out the rest of the roster on the cheap -- forget the mid-level exception -- and Oklahoma City will be looking at $80 million payrolls in those seasons. The tax line is at $70.4 million now, and it will go up as league revenues rise. But most projections have the tax line somewhere around $75 million in the 2015-16, and very solid growth (about 3 percent) would have it jump only to $72.5 million in 2013-14 and $74.6 million in the following season. Note again: These are estimates. Under the harsh new tax rates that kick in for the 2013-14 -- just in time! -- the Thunder would be paying a tax bill ranging from $7.5 million to $12.5 million or so, depending on the exact tax level and how much the team’s ownership is willing to spend on the back of the roster. Is Oklahoma City, the league’s second-smallest market, willing to spend something like $85 million or even $90 million to fill a team?"
  • Bradford Doolittle projects only one team in the East to win 50 games (Insider) and for the Hawks to be the No. 2 seed despite losing Joe Johnson.
  • Jason Richardson learned how to play off a dominant big man with Dwight Howard in Orlando. That should work out well in Philadelphia, where he'll be paired with Andrew Bynum.
  • Philadunkia's Steve Toll imagines Masai Ujiri reacting to opportunity to trade for Iguodala: "He was told Andre Iguodala and he probably said something like, 'hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm let me think on it and I’ll call you back' then proceeded to rip his shirt off like vintage Hulk Hogan and go running around the Denver front office like a crazy person yelling 'Iguodalaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was just gifted Iguodalaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa for Afflalo and Harrington, Iguodalaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!'"
  • Answer: A Felix the Cat flag, screenplays and a stuffed turtle. Question: What did you miss at Michael Beasley's estate sale?
  • Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold digs into Dwight Howard's somewhat maligned offensive game and finds a lot to like, especially in pick-and-rolls: "Beyond his finishing, however, the authority in which Howard dives into the teeth of the defense instantly draws extra defenders to him. This magnetism creates the floor spacing and passing angles his teammates feast on. With Howard on the floor the three point shooting percentages of Ryan Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson were all much better than when he was on the bench."
  • Blake Griffin's face-up game needs work.
  • Meet future NBA player Mirza Teletovic. He plays a bit like Ryan Anderson, says Sam Meyerkopf of Euroleague Adventures.
  • SB Nation's Andrew Sharp hilariously explains that it's been a great decade to be a Wizards fan if you are into endearingly dysfunctional players. And funny names.
  • On Ball Don't Lie, Dan Devine explains why Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings have a lot to figure out next season: "In sum, teams playing the Bucks feasted when Jennings and Ellis shared the court, scoring an average of 107.7 points per 100 possessions of floor time, more than five points-per-100 below Milwaukee's season defensive mark, according to NBA.com's metrics. To put things in perspective, only one team put up defensive numbers that inept over the course of the full 2011-12 season -- when Jennings and Ellis shared the backcourt, the Bucks ceased being a slightly-worse-than-average defensive team and became the Charlotte Bobcats (107.8-per-100 allowed)."
  • In an interview with Patrick Hayes, Kirk Goldsberry (of Court Vision fame) reflects on seeing statistics in action during the NBA playoffs: "I put out the chart in April, which showed how extremely effective Durant is from the top of the arc. It’s his favorite shot, he shoots a ton there, he owns that spot. The fast forward to the playoffs when the Lakers are playing the Thunder, then last possession of the game, Durant is approaching the top of the arc and Ron Artest is for some reason sitting back six feet and we all know what happened -- Durant nails that shot. What struck me was why didn’t the Lakers know that was his best shot?"
  • A Lakers fan who feels guilty, sort of, about his team's embarrassment of both basketball and literal riches.

Bobcats are not at odds with NBA lottery

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
5:54
PM ET
By Alok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
With the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery on Wednesday (8 ET on ESPN), each non-playoff team’s fans are hoping that the ping-pong balls come out in their favor, giving them the No. 1 overall pick and a chance to select likely top choice, Anthony Davis.

Given each team's probability of winning the top pick in the lottery, here is a similar event related to that team that has approximately the same frequency.

Charlotte Bobcats (25.0 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Bobcats losing a game last season by at least 25 points. In 2011-12, the Bobcats lost 16 of 66 games (24.2 percent) of their games by at least 25 points.

Washington Wizards (19.9 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: John Wall scoring at least 24 points in a game last season.

New Orleans Hornets (14.8 percent, includes their own pick and the Timberwolves' pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Hornets winning a game by at least eight points last season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (13.8 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Kyrie Irving scoring more than 10 points in the fourth quarter of a game.

Sacramento Kings (7.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins combining for 50 points in a game last season.

Brooklyn Nets (7.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Deron Williams scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Golden State Warriors (3.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Stephen Curry scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Toronto Raptors (3.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Andrea Bargnani scoring at least 35 points in a game in 2011-12.

Detroit Pistons (1.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Greg Monroe having a 30-point, 15-rebound game last season.

Portland Trail Blazers (0.8 pecent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a half last season.

Milwaukee Bucks (0.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Brandon Jennings making five 3-point field goals in a half in 2011-12.

Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Steve Nash making 50 straight free throws during his career.

Houston Rockets (0.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: NBA team finishing two to four games above .500 and missing playoffs in three straight seasons (which the Rockets have, in fact, done the last three seasons).

The "I" in Knicks spells doom again

January, 21, 2012
1/21/12
1:07
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
KNICKS MAKE IT A NICKEL
The Milwaukee Bucks beat the New York Knicks who have now lost five straight games and stand at 6-9. Although Carmelo Anthony scored 35 points in the loss, the Knicks now stand at just 20-21 since trading for him last February.

A trend of leaning on Anthony in isolation continued against Milwaukee, as Anthony accounted for 15 of the Knicks’ 19 plays in isolation. On the season, the Knicks have ran a higher percentage of isolation plays than any other team, but are shooting just 29.3 percent on such plays, the worst in the NBA.

Brandon Jennings scored a season-high 36 points in the win, but did so without attempting a single free throw. He is the first player to score at least that many points without attempting a free throw since Jason Richardson in January 2008. Two of the three highest scoring games of his career have now come at Madison Square Garden, having hung 37 on March 25 of last season.

HOWARD SHOULDERS THE LOAD
Dwight Howard had 21 points and 23 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic over the Los Angeles Lakers 92-80. It was Howard’s fifth game with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds this season, more than the rest of the NBA combined. According to Elias, Howard is the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76 with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in five of his team’s first 15 games of the season.

Although Kobe Bryant scored 30 points, the Lakers offense continues to struggle as they failed to top 100 points for the 10th straight game. That is tied for the second-longest such streak by the Lakers in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55).

BULLS WIN WITHOUT ROSE
Despite playing without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls won 114-75, handing the Cleveland Cavaliers their worst home loss in franchise history. According to Elias, the 39-point margin of victory is the second-largest ever by the Bulls over the Cavaliers, trailing only a 121-80 result on December 22, 1970.

Chicago held Cleveland to just 30.3 percent shooting, the fifth-lowest allowed in a game this season. It was the fifth time this season the Bulls have held their opponent to under 35 percent shooting. The Lakers are the only other team with even three such games this season.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
• The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Atlanta Hawks 90-76 to improve to 11-4, their best start since starting 11-4 in 2002-03.

• LaMarcus Aldrige had 33 points, 23 rebounds and five assists to lead the Portland Trail Blazers over the Toronto Raptors. He is only the sixth player in the last 25 seasons to reach those threshold in a single game and the first to do it since Kevin Garnett in 2003-04.

• The Detroit Pistons scored 81 points in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s Pistons’ 16th straight game they have failed to score 100 points, their third-longest such streak in the shot-clock era.

Thursday Bullets

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
12:49
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Owning an NBA team might not be as miserable as some make it sound. University of Chicago economist Kevin Murphy, who is consulting the players union, speaks about the glory of equity in an interview with NBA.com's Steve Aschburner: "There are a couple of things that are really attractive. One is, historically, you’ve seen franchises appreciate in value and that appreciation has more than outstripped any cash-flow losses that you’ve had. And if you’re in the right tax position, it’s actually pretty good because you’ve got a tax loss annually on your operating and you’ve got a capital gain at the end that you accumulate untaxed until you sell it and then pay at a lower rate. So you get a deferred tax treatment on the gains and an immediate tax treatment on the losses, that’s not a bad deal."
  • The Milwaukee Bucks never stop working, but they're fundamentally a poor offensive club. If that's going to change, an inefficient Brandon Jennings will need to improve his shot from long-range, learn how to draw some fouls and figure out how to finish.
  • A legal battle between Michael Beasley, his former agent and an AAU power broker grows uglier. Beasley's third-party complaint against Curtis Malone, his old AAU coach, reads: "In summary, Third-Party Defendant, in concert with [Bell Sports, Inc.] corrupted every mechanism of honest guidance Beasley had in his life to assist him to pursue the best NBA agent available, which seriously deprived Beasley, both economically and otherwise." Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports has more.
  • Do you remember whom the Trail Blazers got for Sam Bowie in 1989? He wasn't Michael Jordan, but a very, very nice piece nonetheless.
  • The sale of the Atlanta Hawks to Alex Meruelo might be on the verge of collapsing because Meruelo doesn't have sufficient resources. How was Meruelo going to finance the sale? By borrowing from the sellers. There's mounting evidence that this a lousy template for the sale of a big-league sports franchise. We present the Los Angeles Dodgers as Exhibit A, but there are others.
  • In a piece that cites the $33.5 million in public funds the city of Indianapolis coughed up to the Pacers (termed a "forgivable loan"), but makes no mention of the nearly identical amount the team paid to Mike Dunleavy Jr., T.J. Ford, James Posey and Jeff Foster in 2010-11, Anthony Schoettle of the Indianapolis Business Journal tells Pacers fans to root for the owners in CBA negotiations.
  • Even those who want fewer games on the NBA schedule feel the quality of play suffered during compressed 1998-99 season. Was the frenzied, abbreviated free agency period that followed the settlement also a factor? Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie: "The 1998 free agent class, in terms of sheer numbers, was the largest ever; and instead of 29 teams taking their time as they worked through the hundreds that were available, the league and its players were forced to take fewer than three weeks to figure out where about half its workforce was going to play for the next few years." The free agency and player movement blitz that will be launched by a resolution is going to be a blast for NBA fans. General managers will have to recruit, react, pivot, hedge and react again in a split second. Is that a good thing? When you're staffing an office or choosing where you want to work or go to school, is your process better served with a careful evaluation of the candidates or a close consideration of how you think you'll fit in? Or is everyone better off by rushing into partnership? Which model do we think produces better personnel decisions?
  • No arguments whatsoever with J.J. Redick's food trinity.
  • Evan Turner learns that pet ownership isn't always what it's cracked up to be.
  • This could be a fun artistic exercise for Heat haters and lovers alike.
  • A.C.L tears: not just for pro athletes and aging amateurs anymore.
  • Trey Kerby of TBJ pays a visit to 48 Minutes of Hell to talk about Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner and wedding parties on the 4-Down podcast.
  • Riot police and demonstrators clash outside the Oakland apartment of Ethan Sherwood Strauss of Hoopspeak. His account of Wednesday night's events is full of nuanced imagery and observation -- and also this: "A certain neuroses prevents me from subsuming my personality into any collective emotion. It’s rooted more in an intense fear of getting manipulated than any grand, righteous code."

Justin Bieber plays basketball

February, 19, 2011
2/19/11
12:09
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Justin Bieber took the court in the All-Star celebrity game, and he was not the best player on the court -- he missed eight of his eleven shots, had some frustration fouls and was a liability on defense. He wasn't the biggest, either. But thanks to fan votes determining the pick, he was both the MVP (despite his team losing), and the player who had the NBA talking:



Many thanks to Bryan Gold for editing.
The most dramatic shot of the Las Vegas Summer League came at the buzzer of the 58th and final game -- a side-winding heave by Mark Tyndale to give the D-League Select a 79-78 win over the Clippers:
  • How will Larry Sanders' game fit in with Milwaukee's existing parts? His sound face-up 18-footer will help a Bucks offense that was choked for open space in the half court. He also gives Brandon Jennings another dependable partner on the pick-and-roll and wins almost every race to the rim in transition. A Sanders-Andrew Bogut tandem could eventually constitute the best defensive frontcourt in the league. Milwaukee is unlikely to reach the highest echelon in the East with its firepower, but by blanketing the paint with two capable pick-and-roll defenders who can block shots and clean the glass, the Bucks have the makings of a team that could post a stingy defensive efficiency rating in the high 90s.
  • Luke Babbitt will be a deadly catch-and-shoot threat and will give Portland the spacing it needs when he's on the floor at either forward spot. On dribble-drives, Babbitt's handle is strong enough, but he had trouble finishing at the rim this week through traffic. In his final game, Babbitt made an adjustment. He was still aggressive off the dribble, but looked to draw and absorb contact. Babbitt got to the stripe eight times (8-for-8) after earning only 13 attempts in his first four games.
  • After turning the ball over 28 times in his first four games, Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe put together a heady, controlled performance against the D-League Select team. He changed speeds and read the defense beautifully off high ball screens from Rod Benson -- bursting into the paint only when invited, and making smart passes or drawing contact when the defense converged. He scored 13 points (6-for-10 from the field), grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists against three turnovers.
  • The Spurs bludgeoned the Grizzlies by sticking Benetton Treviso guard Gary Neal in the left corner and creating open looks for him off drive-and-kicks or curls. When sets broke down for the Spurs, Neal was the safety valve. He hit 6-of-9 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half.
  • Greivis Vasquez finished up an unremarkable week at the point for Memphis. Never has so much dribbling produced so few results.
  • DeMarre Carroll, who has also struggled this week, looked more like the active, versatile forward whose intensity gave the Griz a jolt of energy at selective moments last season. He looked most comfortable at the 3 on Sunday.
  • It's not unusual for a player to take a tour with one team in summer league and then hook on with another squad after the first team finishes up or has gotten a sufficient glimpse of him. Sun Yue started summer league with the Wizards, then moved over to the Bucks midway through the schedule. Meanwhile, Gary Forbes played sparingly with Houston, then got a call from the Clippers, who wanted to get a look at his game.
  • At 6-foot-9, Wayne Chism defends all over the floor, fights through perimeter screens, keeps the ball moving and will battle -- even if he doesn't excel -- as a post defender. If he can get a little stretchier with his range, he could help out an NBA team in the future as a thinking man's Brian Cook.
  • Yaroslav Korolev was in action against the Clippers, the team that drafted him in 2005 with the 12th overall pick. Now 23 years old, the 6-foot-9 Korolev has filled out and looks the part of the rangy, athletic all-purpose forward, but he still lacks an intuitive rhythm for the game. Against a small Clippers lineup, Korolev could've been a strong defensive presence, but he's far too timid as a helper. Offensively, he's decisive only as a spot-up shooter from distance. The closer he ventures to the basket, the less assertive he is.
  • John Krolik of Cavs: The Blog on Omar Samhan: "Samhan has really worked on that pick-and-pop jump shot, and it's looked good throughout his time in Vegas. When he can get his feet set, he's very comfortable -- it's a very natural shot for him. He went 0-10 from the three-point line during his time at St. Mary's, but earlier today he stepped out behind the college three-point line and calmly swished one. He told me earlier in the week that he's working on extending his range to the NBA three, and he's making strides in that direction. Hopefully he performs well in Lithuania."
  • New rule for Las Vegas Summer League 2010: Defenses are required to implement a full-court press for at least three possessions per half.

Thursday Bullets

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
12:57
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Monday Bullets

April, 12, 2010
4/12/10
1:02
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Snow storms vs. All-Star travel

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
5:49
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Brook Lopez
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
The only thing between Brook Lopez and Friday's rookie game in Dallas is a blizzard.

Here in New Jersey, if you look out the window ... well, you hardly can. The snow is stacked so high on the sill that half the pane is covered. Even where you can see the world beyond, it's all the same anyway. Almost no cars driving by. Hardly even any tree bark showing. A polar bear could stand anywhere she wanted and be hard to spot.

Meanwhile, just about everyone in the NBA world is due to travel to Dallas for the All-Star game. All the way through Friday, planes to DFW are booked solid. The airport will be a who's who of the NBA.

If they can get there!

Imagine what kind of NBA disruption could cause if airports are all closed.

League vice president of basketball communications Tim Frank is already in Texas, and says he's "not aware of any plans to schedule anything differently" because of the weather, even though Dallas itself is due for some snow.

Not everyone will make it on time, however. For a period on Wednesday, nearly every flight from the Northeast was canceled.

Which I discovered in trying to confirm my own seat. At that point, I was looking into Amtrak to Dallas. Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Chicago-Dallas, anyone? It's only 24 hours. The only problem is it's sold out and massively delayed -- they can't keep the snow off the tracks. How about a train or a bus to a city with a working airport? One of the nearest that was not experiencing massive delays was in Kentucky. That's 13 hours on a good day. Meanwhile, the cars I have seen moving around this part of the world by are mostly being propelled by humans running along behind, pushing. By dumb luck, as it happens, my flight is back in business. The travel agent says that if I don't make it on that one, I'd be fortunate to get even a Saturday flight.

Which made me think: Wow. What about, for example, all those players who have to play in Friday evening's rookie game?

Many are in good shape. Michael Beasley's game tonight is in Atlanta. Eric Gordon is playing at Golden State. Omri Casspi and Tyreke Evans are in Detroit, where the airport is said to be operating normally. Dejuan Blair is in Denver, Taj Gibson is in Chicago, Jonny Flynn is in Minnesota. Those airports are reportedly working.

Brandon Jennings and his Milwaukee Bucks, however, are in New Jersey to play the Nets tonight. Ordinarily, teams fly home after the game and fly straight back home. Once in Milwaukee, reports are the airport is open. But indications are that planes may have trouble getting in and out of New York area airports tonight, as the snow promises to continue into morning.

At least Jennings can leave the Northeast on a private jet as soon as the runways are open.

Most people are stuck trying to win the lottery of finding seats on commercial flights out of the New York area, just as thousands of flights have been canceled from Washington to Boston.

The Nets' Brook Lopez, for instance, is without a private jet, hoping to leave New Jersey by commercial plane tomorrow. Does he have it all worked out?

"Not sure yet," says Nets' media guy Aaron Harris. "Trying to work out the flight schedules. Don't know what's going to happen yet. Will know more later tonight or tomorrow morning."

Harris adds his own flight to Dallas "is still on, I think. But I don't think the your readers really care about me."

Of course he's dead wrong about that though. If Lopez can't make it, Harris might have to suit up.

Brandon Jennings' All-Star weekend goal

February, 5, 2010
2/05/10
9:47
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Those players lucky enough to be invited to All-Star weekend probably have an assortment of goals: To get some rest. To attend this or that party. To rub elbows with corporate sponsors. To see friends and family.

In other words, for people who obsess night in and night out with winning basketball games, this weekend is typically a break from that -- which is reflected, for instance, in the main game's performance, which is often somewhere between showy and lackadaisical.

Brandon Jennings, though, he's an intense dude, and he tells Howard Beck of The New York Times that he has a real goal: "to break the assists record at the rookie-sophomore game."

He'll be on a roster loaded down with guards used to handling the ball, including Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry and James Harden. It'll be a miracle if any point guard gets long minutes. Lots of his teammates will be looking to set up teammates, too. (It might be easier, this year, to try to set the scoring record.) And they'll be playing a bigger, stronger sophomore team that may be able to make it hard for Jennings' teammates to score as easily as they might in other years.

The cards are stacked against him.

But there's a certain professionalism in boarding the plane for Dallas with that goal. And there's a certain moxie in announcing that goal more than a week out. Suddenly, this is the thing I'm most excited to see in Dallas next weekend. A good basketball player, working hard against long odds. Good stuff.

Seven questions for 2010

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
7:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
One of the simple ways of experiencing basketball is by talking about it with people who share your love of the game. One of the people I enjoy rapping with is John Krolik of Cavs the Blog and SLAM Online. The best conversations are the ones that produce interesting questions, then aim to answer them. Here are some of those questions about the NBA John and I have been bouncing around in our last couple of conversations:


D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
Combo Plate: A ball-handling scorer ... and a scoring ball-handler.


As guys get freakier and more athletic, are we witnessing an end to positional orthodoxy?
JK: We're definitely seeing a lot of blurring in positional lines, particularly outside of the center position. One thing in particular I like is the rise of the true combo guard. Early in the decade, we got a lot of alleged "combo guards" who were really just superpowered bench gunners given control of teams with mixed results; Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, et cetera. (Iverson is Iverson.)

But now we're really starting to see effective players who are a cross between the one and the two in a good way, and they're being complimented with other multi-skilled guards rather than going with a strict point guard/shooting guard backcourt. In San Antonio, they put Tony Parker, who's a great scorer for a point, next to Manu, who's a great playmaker for a shooting guard, and things went well. The double-combo backcourt of Mo Williams and Delonte West turned Cleveland's backcourt from a disaster area to a huge strength last season. Even Jason Kidd, the truest of points, is playing with JET and JJ Barea, and has even become adept at knocking down catch-and-shoot 3s off of other people's assists. Phil Jackson's won only 10 championships using an offense that doesn't require a traditional point. And so many young combo guards are coming in with tons of talent: Tyreke Evans, Russell Westbrook, Brandon Jennings and even John Wall, who should definitely be put next to a guy who can pass and shoot when he comes into the league so that he can spend some time in each game going on guilt-free scoring rampages. Wall might be the combo-guard messiah.

KA: This is a beautiful trend because it's created a much more diverse range of basketball styles. Very few teams around the league look alike, even though many of them run much of the same stuff. The fact that so many players can do so many different things on the floor creates an exponentially greater number of things a team can do schematically. On many teams, shots on the floor can be drawn up for almost any player at any spot! Part of this can be attributed to athleticism. One the things that made a power forward or a center a big men was his ability to perform big men tasks -- rebounding, shot-blocking, the ability to routinely get high-percentage shots close to the rim. Today's NBA perimeter players have the athleticism to do a lot of that -- and many of the bigger guys in the league have perimeter skills, as well.

This seems like a nice segue to ...

Do traditional big men have a future?
KA: Whether you chalk it up to the prohibition of hand-checking or the stylings of Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams (I'd argue that former rendered the latter), the professional game has undergone a seismic shift over the past decade. Perimeter play has taken over. Today's power forwards have big guard games and two of the top three players in 3-point attempts are 6-foot-10. It's a world gone mad, but you can't complain about the product on the court. The NBA has never been more fun to watch, and we're just getting started...

...or are we?

Trends have a way of feeling permanent while they're being experienced, but they rarely last forever. At some point, laws of macroeconomics take over. Right now, there aren't more than a handful of big men in basketball who have refined post moves and can drain a running right-handed hook with consistency. Teams don't value those attributes as much as speed and 3-point shooting. But as more and more players have the ability to drain 100-200 3-pointers per season at a 40 percent clip, the demand will shift. Kids who arrive on the NBA's doorstep with the ability to dominate the game inside with uncanny efficiency will be shopping skills that few teams will be able to defend.

JK: I'd say the hand-check rules imposed an artificial set of circumstances that forced a change, so I don't think we'll see the pendulum swing all the way back to where it was. But I think guys are finding out that even though big men need to be faster and more skilled than they used to be and can't count on getting minutes just because they can score with their backs to the basket and do nothing else (i.e. Eddy Curry), the post-up game is still a valuable weapon. Look at the Lakers. Andrew Bynum, when he's engaged, defends the rim, gets rebounds and is quick enough to find room and finish off of others, but also posts up. Pau Gasol plays the high-post, runs the floor, gets rebounds, passes beautifully and can knock down the mid-range jumper, but also has a wonderful post game. And of course Kobe can and does do just about anything that's possible for a basketball player to do, but also utilizes the post game.

I'd say that the post-up specialist won't be in vogue again in the foreseeable future, but more and more bigs and wings who can do what's demanded of them in the post hand-check NBA are going to find that the actual post game is still a hugely valuable weapon, especially as fewer and fewer teams know how to defend it.

Of the current young up-and-coming teams, which ones are for real and which ones will provide an entertaining illusion of success?
KA: When sizing up a team's future prospects, the first thing I ask myself is, "Can I imagine this team ranking in the top half of the league defensively?"


Oklahoma City is the quintessential upstart squad. They're fun, charismatic, dynamic, athletic ... and not all that impressive as an offensive unit. It's the Thunder's defense that's led them to a 17-14 record this season. So long as tough, lanky defenders like Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha are patrolling the perimeter (and James Harden too), opponents are going to have a tough time scoring against them. With that Kevin Durant angle pick-and-roll as the anchor of their offense, they're a good bet to win a playoff series sometime soon.

Brandon Jennings has sparked any and all attention the Bucks have received this season, but Milwaukee's frontcourt of Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute have put up gritty defensive numbers. Mbah a Moute comes as no surprise, but I was shocked by Bogut's stats, until I looked at his figures under Scott Skiles last season -- also really, really good. Once they get a (healthy) shooting guard who can play drive-and-kick off the Jennings-Bogut pick-and-roll, the Bucks could be dangerous under a coach who was booted from his last gig in Chicago after assembling the league's top-ranked defense and the Eastern Conference's 3rd best record the previous season.

Sacramento's lousy defensive numbers don't concern me right now. They strike me as a team that's going to experience a major overhaul over the next 18 months, and a big part of that metamorphosis will be acquiring some pieces around Tyreke Evans who can defend. I have less faith in Memphis, Minnesota, Golden State and, to a slightly lesser extent, Philadelphia, who all have rosters riddled with defensive ciphers.

JK: I think Oklahoma City wins a playoff series when their backcourt clicks into place, and that's close to happening. I love Westbrook's game and think he has a ton of potential, but he just needs to be more disciplined. He pushes the ball, plays great defense, and does all these little things, but then he'll throw up a bad jumper, brick a full-speed reverse layup, or make a silly pass, and his true shooting percentage and turnover rates are way off of where they need to be because of that. It'll be interesting to see if the answer there is Harden maturing to the point where he can play 30-35 minutes a game and cover some of Westbrook's weaknesses with his shooting, playmaking and ability to create off the drive. (Combo guards!) But I think that young frontcourt is the envy of a lot of teams in the league, Sam Presti keeps getting valuable pieces without giving up much, and I'd call the future very bright there.

For Sacramento, the short-term question is how Tyreke is going to work with Kevin Martin. They might cancel each other out or become absolutely unstoppable together, although they might need to do the latter to make up for Martin's suspect defense. But Thompson, Hawes, Casspi, and even Brockman all look like keepers, and Tyreke has given every indication that he can be built around.

In Milwaukee, I think they should be having serious brainstorms on how they can hide Mbah a Moute on offense so they can keep him on the floor longer, maybe even looking for a stretch four so they can put Mbah a Moute closer to the basket offensively and use him like Detroit used Ben Wallace. He's that good defensively.

I agree with you about the rest of the teams, although I give Memphis some upside because I think it's a bit too early to completely give up on Hasheem Thabeet as an impact player defensively; if Orlando could build a defense around Howard and four perimeter guys, there's a chance Memphis can as well. (A chance, mind you.)

What is it about Stan Van Gundy that we like so much?
JK: I think we've got a pretty narrow view of how to evaluate coaches, because we don't see the vast majority of what they do and we're trained to look for their failures and not their successes. Coaches almost exist to be fired, and every time they make a mistake with their play-call or substitution, it'll get talked about the next day.

I think the biggest job of a coach isn't to call timeouts strategically or be a genius with his in game substitutions. (Although both are definitely important, especially the latter.) I think the job of an NBA coach is to set up a system that best utilizes the talents he has available to him, and that's where Stan Van Gundy comes in, especially last season. Of his five starters, he had three guys with below-average defensive reputations, Dwight Howard, and a rookie.

Instead of trying to have everyone play straight-up or stick Rashard Lewis at the three, he evaluated what he had -- the best shot-blocker in the league and more quickness on the perimeter than most other teams had. So he stuck Lewis at the 4 and never looked back, and built a defense around running other teams off threes and keeping Howard at home under the basket. What happened? The Magic gave up the second fewest made baskets at the rim, the second fewest made 3s per game, and more shots from 10-15 feet and 16-23 feet than any other team in the league. They also had one of the league's three best defenses in terms of efficiency.

Offensively, he had Dwight Howard, who can catch and finish with the best of them but isn't a great post player, more shooting and playmaking at the forward spots than most anyone, and a bunch of guys who can shoot threes. So he had Howard look for catches at the rim, ran 3/4 screen-rolls, and had his players shoot a bunch of threes rather than try to do what everyone else was doing. Van Gundy's failures last season were there for the world to see, but what he did extremely well was more subtle.

KA: I like his press conferences, too. The irony of Van Gundy is that popular perception sometimes paints him as inflexible. But as you said, no coach sculpted a more sensible system for his personnel last season than Van Gundy. He did a full appraisal of his talent, saw where he had edges over his opponents at each position (ballhanding at the 3, shooting at the 4, mobility at the 5) and designed his offense to exploit those advantages.

This isn't to say there's anything wrong with building an elite team by first implementing the system, then by populating that system with players whose talents most conform to it. Whatever works, by all means. Just win. But the ability to create a system around a disparate collection of talent that was brought together randomly is in many ways even more impressive.

Should LeBron James be playing more power forward?
KA: Despite James’ size, strength and efficiency on the glass, Mike Brown has him firmly situated at the small forward slot. In fact, you have to go pretty far down the list of Cleveland’s 5-man lineups to find units in which James is playing power forward. But in the six lineups that feature James surrounded by one traditional big man and three smaller players for at least 10 minutes, the Cavs outscore their opponents 96-83 (prorated for 48 minutes).


Those numbers are enough for me, but let’s think about it in practical terms. We’ve already discussed how positional dogma is a thing of the past in an NBA that’s much smaller than it was 10 years ago. When thinking about how to best maximize LeBron in the half-court, wouldn't you prefer that he drag a bigger defender out to him in order to create more space on the floor for your offense? And defensively, wouldn’t a team like Cleveland, whose primary weakness has been its plodding frontcourt, be better served by having LeBron cover Rashard Lewis on Orlando’s pick-and-pop or Boston’s bigs on the Celtics’ rotating screen-and-rolls? Doesn’t it make more sense to challenge Stan Van Gundy and Doc Rivers to match up with a more athletic lineup? And wouldn’t Cleveland benefit from more transition opportunities?

Would team rebounding suffer? When you look at those aforementioned six lineups with LeBron at the 4, the answer is no. Apart from the political stickiness of limiting the minutes of the Cavs' veteran big men, I have trouble seeing how making the Cavs a more athletic team around LeBron comes with much downside.

JK: The short answer is that I'm extremely confused as to why LeBron doesn't get more time at the 4 position, at least for around 10 minutes of his time on the floor. I understand some of the reasoning behind not giving him significant minutes down there. The Cavs show hard on every perimeter screen, which would require LeBron expending more energy on the defensive end than the Cavs are comfortable with, especially in the first three quarters. And of course, the Cavs don't want LeBron in foul trouble under any circumstances. And generally speaking, the Cavs' big men are better players than Jamario Moon, who typically plays the 3 in the Cavs' small-ball lineup. But LeBron getting the ball in the 10-15 foot range and making his move from down there is absolutely deadly, and that small-ball lineup should definitely be something used more often to keep opposing teams on their toes.

What confuses me more than anything is that while the Shaq/Varejao frontcourt has some offensive issues and the Shaq/Hickson frontcourt has some serious defensive issues, a Shaq/LeBron frontcourt hasn't been tried at all this season, and I mean at all. I suppose the reasoning is that LeBron would be forced to expend way too much energy on the perimeter defensively as Shaq sags to the paint on pick-and-rolls (LeBron's never gotten minutes at the four alongside Z either), but with the Cavs supposedly looking for a "stretch 4" at the deadline to make life easier for Shaq, it's odd that they haven't at least tried using LeBron in that role.


Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images
There are nights when the Mavericks look deadly serious.


How Real is Dallas?
KA: Little known fact: Of the 50 5-man units that have played together the most this season, two of the top three in overall efficiency belong to the Dallas Mavericks. Whether it's Jason Terry or J.J. Barea at the shooting guard, the Mavs' big names are absolutely crushing their opponents on both ends of the floor. Dallas is a Top 5 defensive squad and features one of the game's great shotmakers in Dirk Nowitzki. They also have tremendous flexibility to match up with opponents on either end. They can play old-school or new-school. Want to tease the Mavs with small ball? That's fine, because they're perfectly good going with three guards and moving Shawn Marion and Nowitzki into the frontcourt. Want to try to outmuscle them? Erick Dampier may have an outsized contract, but he's also one of the better basket protectors and garbage collectors in the league. Opponents shoot a measly 57.4 percent at the rim against the Mavs -- only Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio are better.

More than anything, the Mavs strike me as a team composed of professionals. These are serious basketball players led by a serious coach. Is it possible that a squad with so many thirtysomethings breaks down physically over the course of an 82-game season? Perhaps. But where some see brittleness, I see experience. In fact, I see shades of the best San Antonio Spurs squads. I see a team that truly understands its collective talents and limitations and puts a premium on execution.

Can they compete with the Lakers in late May? I'm not sure anyone in the Western Conference can, but Dallas -- with its length, smarts, and perimeter prowess -- might just be the toughest competition the Lakers encounter.

JK: Dallas has a ton of talent, Dirk is right up there with the best players in the league, and the team defends. My caveat would be that they're thinner than people think, and much more dependent on Dirk. As of December 26th, Dallas was +11.6 points per 100 possessions with Dirk on the floor and a stunning -16.5 points per 100 with Dirk on the bench. As bad as LeBron and Kobe's benches are, their teams are only -8 when they sit, to offer some perspective.

A lot of that has to do with Drew Gooden; Gooden's plus-minus is -23.1, and as someone who's watched a good deal of Gooden in his life, I can tell you that's not random noise. Drew Gooden is the anti-Battier. I'm also not a huge J.J. Barea fan. He's fun to watch and works fairly well with Kidd offensively, but I believe you were the one who said he plays defense "like a man frantically searching for his car keys," and the plus-minus numbers support the theory that Barea's somewhat of a defensive liability. Dallas can play with anyone, especially when Dirk's on the floor, and if they do something to get a better backup for Dirk than Gooden and hide Barea's defense a little better (maybe play more Beaubois, who's gone through growing pains and will probably continue to do so, but has lockdown defensive potential), I'd call them a true force to be reckoned with in the West. If not, I'd say they have a solid puncher's chance of knocking the Lakers off their Western Conference throne.

How do we begin to make sense of adjusted plus-minus?
JK: Outside of the obvious conclusion, which is "no one stat or metric, no matter how advanced or intricate, is ever going to come close to saying everything about one player," I have two thoughts on adjusted plus-minus.

The first is that I get how the basic +/- you see in box scores and 82games.com's version of plus-minus work, but I still don't totally understand how advanced plus-minus works, and that's a problem. I mean, I get the theory, that it adjusts for having good or bad teammates or playing against good and bad opponents, but how exactly does it define "good" and "bad"? Is "good" based on the other guy's adjusted plus-minus, or is the value of others derived from something like Player Efficiency Rating? Aren't both approaches problematic? Right now, adjusted plus-minus is sort of "He's good. Trust me," which I have trouble swallowing as a fan and certainly can't use to convince friends or readers of a guy's value.

The second problem is one that will get fixed over time, which is that we still don't really know how to read plus-minus type stats yet. We know with a stat like field goal percentage that a shooting guard is going to have a lower field goal percentage than a center, but we also know that the guard is probably shooting more 3s, shooting his free throws better and taking tougher shots than the center. We know how to read that stat.

But because plus-minus is one number and so nebulous, we don't know which plus-minus numbers to take with a grain of salt and which ones not to. I'll bring up the semi-infamous Durant example here. Durant had terrible +/- ratings for his first two seasons, but has been incredible in year three. Was the Durant phenomenon ever even real, or did Durant actually improve this year in ways the stats didn't see? If we want plus-minus metrics to be as legitimate as the box score ones, we have to stress-test it like we have the conventional numbers that came before them.

KA: I'm drawn to adjusted plus-minus because I'm desperate to find any metric that will approximate a player's defensive value, something we just don't have the tools to do right now. I'm more faithful than I probably should be given the lack of stress tests you talk about. Your point is well-taken and I'd add that stats like these are only valuable to the extent that they're predictive. There will always be players who make colossal jumps or experience unusual crashes in productivity, but apart from outliers, a stat must be dependable enough to offer a clear -- if general -- estimation of what that player is worth in the past, present and likely future. I've begun to spend more time examining the adjusted plus-minus numbers of 5-man units rather than individuals, in part because it seems more practical.

I suspect we'll know a lot more in three to five years than we do now. The metric's practitioners (and the people who trust them) will have a better sense of where the numbers skews, what those number might miss and the kind of noise those numbers create. In the meantime, I'll continue to watch the 2-year figures (and eventually 3-year, and 4-year). Any system that values Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant as the five best players in the NBA has to be on to something, right?

SPONSORED HEADLINES