TrueHoop: DeJuan Blair
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Perry Jones has scary talent and size, but there are questions about his motor.
Endless questions swirl around Perry Jones III, the highly rated prospect from Baylor. At 6-11 he has a guard's handle, but what position does he play? Who will he guard? Can he shoot well enough to play on the perimeter?
But the most pressing questions are about his motor, as in, why doesn't Perry Jones play harder, more assertively?
On Hardwood Paroxysm, James Herbert interviews Jones' trainer, who says he has some answers:
“I think they’ve got that wrong,” said the Harvard graduate who worked with elite athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before opening his own facility in Santa Barbara, California. “I don’t even know what that is: ‘A weak motor.’ I’ve heard that around him now over these last few weeks quite a few different times and I don’t know quite what that means. Is that like lack of effort? Does it mean not a lot of drive? Does it mean he can’t work at a high level for a long period of time? I don’t know. I don’t think any of these things are going to be true with this kid.
Elliott has worked with Jones for the last month and a half, preparing him for the Chicago pre-draft combine, team workouts and the leap to the next level. What he found was a mechanical issue, not one involving a lack of heart, desire or focus.
“When you create force for any kind of athletic movement out of your lower half — whether it’s jumping or sprinting or cutting — you use a combination of force generated from the ankle, the knee and the hip. We call those ‘force moments,’” Elliott said. Jones’ problem is that he was creating a bigger force moment over his knee than was desirable. His work at P3 has been about shifting his incredibly powerful force moments to his hips. While “motor” is a murky term, sports science showed something specific: His movement pattern put too much pressure on his knees to produce maximal force on a consistent basis. Perry’s smooth athleticism made everything look easy, but it was not.
I don't doubt that improving his functional mobility can make Jones more consistently explosive. But does anyone really question whether he's athletic enough to play in the NBA?
Jones’ trainers aren’t just working on his mechanics, they’re working on his sales pitch. If a team's general manager is torn on how to evaluate Jones, perhaps the right pitch can help make him a believer.
Motor may be elusive to define, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist, or that we couldn't measure it. A simple test measuring a players' heart rate under game-like conditions in practice would create the necessary baseline to see how hard they are working during games. In crude terms, players who work harder for more of the game have high motors.
And for all of Jones talent, there's no doubt he's something of a tweener, a player who will need to stake his own identity on the court. If Jones drifts for 10 minutes in an NBA game, he may never see the ball.
The tweeners who thrive in the NBA all share one skill: a tremendous work rate.
6-7 center DeJuan Blair doesn’t even have ACLs, but no one ever wondered if he was playing his hardest. Paul Millsap is an undersized power forward who forced his way into Utah's starting lineup with his relentless rebounding.
Ditto Kenneth Faried, one of the big surprises from last year's draft. Faried is four inches shorter than Jones, can’t dribble or shoot and is not especially savvy as a defender. Teams hardly thought he was a sure thing, as evidenced by his selection at 17th overall.
But oh man does he hustle! And when does that ever go wrong? Is taking that kind of player really a risk?
Any team that drafted Faried was going to get the hardest working player in the draft, and that effort ultimately made him one of the most effective rookies in his class.
Working the way Faried does is the one skill that can make all the other skills look better. In college, Jones' motor tended to give the opposite impression.
But like any skill, motor can be improved with deliberate practice, which means Perry Jones' career is very much an open question. That's frightening to general managers drafting in the top 10 but more palatable to those with a mid-to-late-first round pick.
Despite protestations to the contrary from his camp, history shows that whether Jones makes the leap from scary to scary good will have little to do with his vertical and a lot to do with motor.
Yes, the Spurs were the proctors who broke up the spring flings thrown by the Seven Seconds of Less Phoenix Suns. For those who like their superstars to dazzle, Tim Duncan's charisma deficit and his mechanical game can be affronts. The Spurs have historically been defensive stalwarts, likelier to grind an opponent into submission, not run it off the court. Those qualities, along with a lack of interpersonal drama, might lull certain fans to sleep.
But boredom, at its very root, can be defined as the absence of choice. Get stuck with a program that uses the same formula to produce the same outcome over and over and over again, and you get bored. If you eat the same stuff every day for lunch, you grow tired of it. The same outings with the same people where you talk about the same stuff -- those experiences can become rote.
We're rarely bored when our expectations are challenged, and the most interesting way to do that is by introducing choice into the equation. Anything can happen means that the range of possibilities is endless.
When the Spurs bring the ball upcourt, that's usually the case. They relied on isolation plays only 7.1 percent of the time in the regular season. (Only the Magic used a smaller percentage of their possessions in iso.) In their first-round sweep of Utah, the Spurs ran isos only 24 times in four games. (The Knicks, in contrast, had 124 such possessions over five games.) Instead, the Spurs did what they usually do to get what they want in the half court -- rely on motion, timing, ball movement and, most of all, choice.
Choice is the overriding principle at work in an efficient offense. Take away that offense's primary objective in a half-court possession, and it will gladly move on to option No. 2. Sniff out No. 2, and a third choice will materialize. And so on.
The Spurs under Gregg Popovich have always understood that NBA defenses are too big and quick to confine your offense to one option. There have to be multiple contingency plans in a given possession; otherwise, you leave yourself vulnerable to chance. A lot of fans like the element of chance in sports -- and perhaps that's one explanation for the Spurs' "boring" rap.
But the Spurs' trademark set -- called "motion weak" -- is anything but boring. It's a magical merry-go-round of basketball possibility, a play that has an endless number of outcomes. When it begins, the players aren't even sure where the ball will land, but they know that if they read the defense and move with precision, a quality look at the basket will surface from somewhere.
Let's take a look:
The play starts simply enough: Tony Parker passes the ball off to a wing player on his right. It might be Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson or Gary Neal. Once the ball leaves Parker's hands, he cuts through to the basket.
If the defense is napping or Duncan has prime position against his defender down on the low right block, the ball can go immediately from the wing to Parker on the move (it'll look like a simple give-and-go) or Duncan for a quick shot. Against bad defenses in January, the Spurs will pick up a couple of easy buckets this way, but deep into the postseason, the Spurs usually will have to put in a little more work.
Whoa! There's a lot going on here!
Very true, so let's break down what each of our chess pieces is doing on the board:
- Tony Parker: Rarely do the Spurs get that easy give-and-go mentioned above, so when Parker dishes the ball off in Picture 1, he dives to the basket, but ultimately clears through, then loops around to the wing on the weak side.
- Tim Duncan: If Duncan isn't fed the ball down low on the right block, he'll use a cross screen along the baseline provided by the Spurs' other wing player (2/3), then set up on the opposite block.
- 4/5 (Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair): The big man who isn't Duncan sets up at the top of the floor, where he'll receive a pass from the wing, then keep the ball moving by dishing it off to Parker once Parker has cleared through. When he dishes the ball off, our 4/5 man will then set a down screen for 2/3, once 2/3 has finished setting that aforementioned cross screen for Duncan. After setting that down screen, 4/5 will head over to the right block vacated by Duncan. On the rare occasion Bonner is the guy at the top of the floor and his defender is elsewhere, he can fire away. But generally, this is merely a transit point for the ball between the strong and weak sides fo the floor.
- 2/3 (Ginobili, Leonard, Green, Jackson, Neal): As mentioned above, 2/3 has two jobs: setting that cross-screen for Duncan, then looping back to the perimeter courtesy of a down screen from the big man.
When this cycle of events is over, the ball is back in Parker's hands on the other side of the floor. Duncan may or may not have a mismatch on the left block, depending on how the defense dealt with that cross screen.
The carousel has slowed down a bit, and Parker has a few options:
- Feed Duncan on the left block, six words that have yielded four championships. Duncan might have a mismatch or have his man sealed off. Whatever the case, Duncan one-on-one in the low post is never a lousy consolation prize.
- Kick it over to 2/3. It's difficult to capture the choreography with still diagrams, but 2/3 will often be buzzing at warp speed with his defender trailing in hot pursuit. If there's ample separation and Parker can hit 2/3 on the move, this can either serve as a catch-stop-and-pop midrange jumper, or 2/3 can keep moving and attack.
- Move into a pick-and-roll with Duncan on the left side. If you're the San Antonio Spurs, there are worse things than a Parker-Duncan two-man game on the left side of the floor with the defense still catching up to all the movement.
The responsibility now lies with Parker and Duncan to make the call. If Duncan moves off the block to set a ball screen for Parker, we move on ...
The final resort of the Spurs' signature set looks like the first strike from most teams -- a simple angle pick-and-roll on the left side with a variety of drive-and-dish options for Parker. He can deliver a bounce pass to Duncan on the move (or a quick dish if Duncan pops, which is increasingly the case these days). Otherwise, Parker can hit the other big man on a duck-in beneath the weakside glass or kick the ball out to either of his wings on the perimeter.
Parker recorded a career-high 28.4 assist rate this season, far and away the best mark of his career. How did he do that at age 29? By become fluent in situations like these. It takes years to master an intricate offense, even for the most instinctive players. There's a reason we see veteran teams executing best in the playoffs. It's because this stuff is tricky! Running a sophisticated offense requires tens of thousands of possessions in repetition over several seasons with the same guys.
There was a time when Parker couldn't see or wouldn't respond to all the options in the Spurs' offense. He didn't arrive in the league with the vision of Chris Paul or Steve Nash. It took several seasons and some tough love from Popovich, but Parker has arrived in full.
And that's how you build the league's No. 1 offense.
Information in this post was provided by mySynergy Sports.com.
The Grizzlies are just the seventh No. 8 seed to be up 2-1 in a series since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams during the 1983-84 campaign. This is only the third time its happened since the first round expanded to a seven-game series in the 2003 playoffs.
Memphis still has some work to do though as of the six different No. 8 seeds to lead a series 2-1, only two of them went on to win the series.
Still the Grizzlies now have proven they can beat the Spurs in the playoffs with Manu Ginobili in the lineup. In fact it was Ginobili who had the ball in his hands at the end of the game with a chance to tie, but was unable to even get a shot off.
Much like its Game 1 victory, Memphis was led by their frontcourt tandem of Zach Randolph (25 points) and Marc Gasol (17). The duo combined for 42 of the teams' 91 points, and outscored their counterparts Tim Duncan (13) and Antonio McDyess (8) by 21 points.
In the two wins for the Grizzlies this series, Randolph and Gasol have outscored Duncan and McDyess 91-to-40. However in the Grizzlies Game 2 loss the duo combined for just 23 points, only outscoring Duncan and McDyess by two.
Looking ahead to Game 4, the Spurs may have found a better way to match up with the Grizzlies front court, particularly Randolph.
After Randolph scored 14 points (6-11 FG) against McDyess and DeJuan Blair in the first half, Duncan shifted over to guard the Memphis forward for much of the final two quarters.
He held Randolph to seven points in the second half, helping the Spurs make up a nine-point halftime deficit before falling by three.
Like they did in Game 1, the Spurs struggled to make jump-shots in Game 3. San Antonio was tied for fourth in the NBA during the regular season, making 40.2 percent of its jump shots. In its two losses this series, the Spurs were held to just 30.8 percent.
Credit Memphis for closing out on shooters in the series as the Grizzlies allowed opponents to make 38.8 percent of jump-shots in the regular season, tied for 16th in the NBA.
The Grizzlies defenders really bothered the Spurs on three-point field goals as they went just 2-for-15 from beyond the arc in Game 3. During the regular season the Spurs were the NBA's best three-point shooting team making 39.7 percent of their attempts.
- ESPN's panel of prognosticators picked the Celtics to finish with 51 wins and the No. 3 seed, following a season in which they finished 50-32 and entered the postseason with the No. 4 seed. Given the Celtics' flourish in the 2010 playoffs, that prediction has some Celtics fans riled. Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub (who was on the panel) tells his brethren in green to simmer down: "[I]t is perfectly reasonable to predict the C’s will again proceed through the regular season prioritizing health and rest over win total. Why wouldn’t they? They did it last year and got to the Finals, and all they’ve done since is make an old team even older while the Eastern Conference has improved at the top and in the middle."
- Don't like ESPN's predictions? Check out economist Ian Ayres' prediction tools that allow you to forecast everything from the price of Bordeaux to how long your marriage will last.
- Kevin Love tells NBA.com's John Schumann that he feels more appreciated by Team USA than the Minnesota Timberwolves.
- Drew Cannon's new positional system, which he unveiled at Basketball Prospectus last week, continues to generate interesting conversation. Cannon seeks to address the problem of designating specific positions to players who, increasingly, defy that kind of classification (think Stephen Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu or point guards whose defensive assignments are the 2-guard or even the small forward). Both Tom Ziller of Fanhouse, and Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game delve deeper into the discussion and expose some of the problems with developing a new model and throwing out the old designations like "point guard" and "center." Spend some time looking at Mahoney's revised model.
- For a league that's reportedly struggling financially, we're seeing a host of suitors line up every time a franchise goes on the block. The Pistons are no exception.
- Speaking in his native Lettish, Andris Biedrins tells Warriors World's Rasheed Malek that Don Nelson's comments about the young center's free-throw shooting bothered him: "When he said I should practice underhanded, I felt very disrespected. At one point I spoke to a psychiatrist who reminded me of some things, but it’s not so bad that they send you and try to brainwash you. It’s mostly about believing in yourself, because, before this season it was more or less OK."
- Here's an impressive video compilation of Scottie Pippen's defense. When we talk about a player's versatility, we're usually referring to his offensive repertoire. We all know that Pippen displayed an uncommon range of skills on the offensive end of the floor, but this reel captures how incredibly talented Pippen was on the other side of the ball. He was both a pest to point guards, but capable of pushing guys like Charles Barkley off the block. With Pippen in close proximity, there was no such thing as an easy entry pass.
- Steve Perrin of Clips Nation has a comprehensive and smart breakdown of the current 15-man Team USA roster.
- Remember Ali Farokhmanesh, who hit the ballsiest shot of the 2010 NCAA Championships when Northern Iowa upset Kansas? He's headed to Switzerland to play for Massagno in the Swiss league (LNA).
- Daily Thunder has your Serge Ibaka "Air Congo" t-shirt modeled by ... Serge Ibaka.
- Slide over, Lamar Odom. Michael Beasley confesses that, among his other nicknames, "Skittles" took hold at a fairly young age: "You know growing up I ate a lot of candy, if you were at my dinners you would know that, you know but I eat a lot of candy so from eight to probably like 15, you wouldn't see me without a pack of Skittles." On the tart vs. chocolate debate, Beasley is very decisive: "I'm not a chocolate man. I'm skittles, anything made by Wonka, you know I like candy not chocolate."
- Jefferson Boswell of Salt City Hoops recounts a nice story about his grandma and Karl Malone during a physical therapy session. What did Malone mutter when he stepped up to the free throw line? Only Grandma Alene knew.
- DeJuan Blair: Menace under the glass; menace with CAP LOCKS!
I couldn't take my eyes off DeJuan Blair.
With Tim Duncan taking off the second game of a back-to-back, Gregg Popovich fielded a lineup of three guards, Richard Jefferson and Blair at center.
That's a pretty hefty, almost Hayes-ian load on both ends for a 6-6 rookie drafted in the second round. But from the first tip, Blair controlled the interior. He owned the paint and anyone who tried to invade his territory:
DeJuan Blair, drafted 37th overall despite projecting to be one of the best players in this draft, nabbed 19 rebounds in his first preseason game for the San Antonio Spurs.
NBA general managers not named R.C. Buford are reportedly bitter at those smarmy doctors who wouldn't let them draft the Big East player of the year because of concerns about his knees. (Learned about this from Kevin Pelton's fascinating post about young rebounders.)
My response to those GMs: Boo freaking hoo.
Let's be clear: There is a long history of players getting poor medical assessments and then playing extremely well in the NBA. (Carl Landry comes to mind as one of a recent example.) Every team has such stories.
I heard one GM say last year that, because so many players go on to produce heavily after being red-flagged by doctors, he never lets doctors veto a player acquisition.
Consider that the doctor's job is to identify problems -- not build title-winning rosters.
In other words, a doctor can look at an MRI and rule a player out. But a GM, with a draft pick, has to pick somebody else instead. The job, then, is to choose between a lesser player with good health and a better player with medical questions.
They don't teach anything remotely like that in medical school.
That's the GM or owner's call.
It's simply a question of how much risk they can stomach. If they can't take the risk ... then the safe thing is to step into the shadows and let the doctors decide.
On the other hand, I'd argue that grabbing a player like that is the exact kind of big risk, big reward play that title-winning teams tend to make. Will Blair be injured? It's unknowable. I'd say it's even money, however, that he or his opponents will be in pain.
In this particular case, Blair's ACL operations -- the subject of all the worry -- were in high school! So all that amazing rebounding he did over the last two years in college were on the same knees he has now.
Rebounding has been shown to be one of the things that carries over best from college to the pros. Which means, on draft day it was already likely that DeJuan Blair, one of the best rebounders in the NCAA, would do some good rebounding in the NBA. Now that it's happening (even just a little, in preseason), the general managers who passed on Blair apparently need somebody to blame.
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Las Vegas Summer League is a lot like the Sundance Film Festival of the NBA. Whereas the pageantry of most NBA games has gotten out of control, Summer League games are small indie productions. The event certainly has its share of fanfare, but it also allows participants to brush shoulders with some notables they wouldn't ordinarily have access to during the grind of the NBA season. Just as festival-goers at Sundance might find themselves sitting next to an A-List movie star in a cozy bar, it's not unusual for Summer League attendees to sit down in the stands at Cox Pavilion, only to look over and see a high-profile general manager in cargo shorts and flip-flops.
Since team executives, agents, player development personnel, and veterans who've come to watch their younger teammates are all convened in one place for 10 days, Summer League is one big, casual schmoozefest, and a great place to take inventory of the state of the NBA.
What were all those big names talking about in Las Vegas this year? Here were eight hot topics:
A Lot of Competent Players, but Only One Sure-Fire All-Star
Since early spring, the 2009 talent pool has been regarded as a one-man draft. By and large, NBA folks left Las Vegas with that consensus intact. Blake Griffin was the story of Summer League. Though he wasn't able to replicate his explosive 27-point debut, Griffin's 19.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game stood out. There were other players who matched his statistical output, but few generated the enthusiasm Griffin did among those who got a look at the full roster of rookies. "It's not only his work ethic and competitiveness," said one scout. "It's the balance, athleticism, body, and control. The stuff he can't do yet? It'll happen in no time." When asked how many certain All-Stars would materialize from the class of 2009, interviewees set the over-under barely above one, with Tyreke Evans earning a few votes. Despite the low expectations for stardom, many observers were pleasantly surprised by the depth of solid, if unexceptional, players. The prevailing opinion in Vegas was that the 2009 group is a far cry from the notoriously fruitless class of 2000. Though there was little unanimity, James Harden, Austin Daye, Wayne Ellington, Jonny Flynn, DeJuan Blair, and Earl Clark were all mentioned as possible contributors, or "third options" as one assistant general manager put it. But conversations about potential greatness consistently and almost exclusively returned to Griffin.
| Anthony Randolph: All grown up?
(Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Summer League play always warrants a disclaimer, because the level of competition falls way short of what guys will confront in an NBA game, but the Warriors' 20-year-old forward seemed almost too advanced for Summer League play. Normally jaded execs and crusty sportswriters alike had their jaws agape watching Randolph command the game when he was out on the floor. Randolph came into the league as a candy dish of disparate talents, but he's graduated from curiosity to crackerjack. He has a band of admirers who gush over his range of talents, and that group got a lot bigger in Las Vegas, as his skill set was on full display. Randolph saw the court, ran the floor, passed the ball, blocked shots, got to the line, and drained mid-range jumpers as well as anyone in Summer League. In his four games, he averaged a Summer League-high 26.8 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting from the floor. He also got to the line 39 times and blocked 12 shots. But it was about more than the stats for Randolph. There's a moment when a player's talents unify into a single, coherent package. Judging from Randolph's performance, that moment has arrived.
The Global Economic Crisis
There's an area behind the near basket at Cox Pavilion where European coaches, general managers, and scouts sit and talk shop during the games. The NBA presents Summer League as a showcase of their future stars, but the real business in Las Vegas is being conducted by these guys, along with the agents and bridge-builders who are trying to get jobs overseas for the less recognizable names on Summer League rosters. Although there wasn't a visible black cloud hanging over this corner of the gym, the anxiety was palpable. They had a lot to be stressed about. Basketball clubs the world over are suffering, but none more than those in Europe. After years of escalating salaries and profits, the market has collapsed. "I've told all my European guys to expect, on average, salaries to go down between 30 and 40 percent," one European agent said. "It's definitely a buyer's market." This dynamic puts pressure on everyone -- the players who are facing a pay cut (even if they're coming off banner seasons), the agents who are terrified to communicate this to their clients out of fear of getting fired, and the teams who still haven't filled out their rosters because they're short on cash. The result is an impasse with neither players nor clubs budging, and a few teams on the verge of economic collapse.
Salary Cap Troubles & the NBA Financial Situation
The international game is in meltdown mode, while the NBA game is suffering from its own set of monetary issues. In Sections 104 and 115, where most of the NBA execs and team personnel sit, the dominant conversation of the week was about the financial pinch NBA franchises are feeling. In his press conference here in Vegas, NBA Commissioner David Stern said that fewer than half of NBA franchises made money last season. Ticket sales, sponsorships, and television contracts are all down. With the salary cap and luxury tax level dropping -- and scheduled to do so for the foreseeable future -- teams are having to calibrate their spreadsheets. This affects everyone: owners, general managers who are under pressure to build legitimate NBA rosters, free agents sitting on the sidelines, their agents, and also the journeymen and undrafted rookies trying to earn a spot on an NBA roster. To save money, a team that would normally carry 15 guys might trim that number down to 13 -- meaning fewer jobs. And players who would've inked rich, multi-year deals are finding that, with some exceptions, they have fewer suitors, with thinner wallets.
The Point Guard Class
Several point guards who came to Las Vegas made strong impressions. Jonny Flynn, despite all the turmoil surrounding Ricky Rubio, stood out. Though many in Vegas questioned the wisdom of playing Tyreke Evans at point guard long-term, few doubted that his strength, size, and capacity to get to the rim would make him a scoring machine. Observers had reserved praise for Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry, the former for his unrefined shot, the latter for looking more like a gunner than a floor general. Some of the mid-first-rounders earned a lot of praise. Dallas' Roddy Beaubois led Vegas point guards in oohs and aahs, zipping through the lane in traffic and filling it up from beyond the arc. Of all the point guards in Las Vegas last week, Darren Collison was among the most polished before going down with an ankle injury. After starting Summer League 1-for-15 from the field, Ty Lawson bounced back to turn in three dominant performances, averaging 23.7 points over that span. Lawson is the kind of point guard who needs to be surrounded by scorers to excel. He'll have that in Denver.
LO, AI, Booz, and the Blazer
As much as NBA fans love speculation about trades and free agency, nobody appreciates the rumor mill quite like the NBA chattering class. Talk of the disintegration of Lamar Odom's negotiations with the Lakers provided plenty of fodder for late-night dinners. The same was true of the l'affaire Allen Iverson, where Carlos Boozer may land, and what the Blazers will do with the money they threw at Paul Millsap. The Odom situation was far and away the most intriguing to the insiders. Odom and the Lakers are in the second act of a romantic comedy: They need each other. The Lakers would slip measurably without Odom, and Odom needs the Lakers to solidify his place among the Lakers greats -- or at least the Lakers very, very goods. The Iverson and Boozer matters exemplify the financial issues mentioned above. So far as Portland, few teams run as much informational interference, and even some of the wiliest insiders were stumped about what the Trail Blazers might do.
The Death of the Back-to-the-Basket Game
"Name one guy here who can hit a jump hook over their left shoulder," an NBA assistant general manager asked. "I can't think of one." Whether it's the trickle-down effect of the European game, the rule changes implemented by the league a few years ago, or college teams appropriating Mike D'Antoni-style basketball, the vast majority of the young bigs who were in Las Vegas are face-up players who work either along the perimeter or out of the pinch post: Anthony Randolph, Earl Clark, James Johnson, Taj Gibson, Dante Cunningham, DaJuan Summers, Austin Daye, and even Blake Griffin. Is this a momentary trend, or will the pendulum eventually swing back? "If I were a big man about to enter college, I would develop that back-to-the-basket game," the executive said. The implication: At some point, those skills will be at a premium, and that kid will be impossible to defend. Forward-looking teams are all about buying low and, right now, traditional post players are undervalued because they don't conform to the current climate of the NBA game.
Dysfunctional Organizational Structures Breed Dysfunctional Franchises
What is going on with Minnesota? That was a popular topic of conversation among senior NBA people in Las Vegas. The team still has no coach. Though it had one of the Summer League's most prolific players in Flynn, there's no telling if the system he played in over the 10 days will be the one installed by a new coach -- whoever that might be. This makes the Summer League evaluation process a lot less useful. Who's in charge? CEO Rob Moor? General manager David Kahn? Will the new coach be fully empowered to do his job? Critics also looked at Memphis. How did the Grizzlies end up with Hasheem Thabeet? Because owner Michael Heisley reportedly made the call. The Clippers, too, generated buzz this week with the Iverson speculation. While owner Donald Sterling wants to make a splash with Iverson, Clippers management would like to target Ramon Sessions. These historically beleaguered franchises all have one thing in common: There's no clear hierarchy that allows basketball people to make basketball decisions. The best franchises have well-defined roles that emanate from the top. Owners allow their senior executives to do their job. Those executives give their head coaches full reign, and so forth. Look no further than the San Antonio Spurs.
- Jonny Flynn is making his case for Summer League MVP. We tend to forget that college offenses don't run much pick-and-roll. With the help of Garrett Siler, his own personal Erick Dampier, Flynn is getting the kind of open space that makes him lethal. Saturday's Flynn line: 24 points (7-for-10 from the floor, 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, 4-for-4 from the stripe, 4 assists). He's the single most electric guard here in Vegas.
- We were deprived of the Flynn-Darren Collison matchup beyond the first quarter-and-a-half, when the Hornets' guard went down with a sprained left ankle. Flynn and Collison traded buckets for the better part of 15 minutes, as we witnessed the best mano-a-mano of the week. Collison plays with a smart combination of patience and assertiveness. He wants to size up the floor before he commits, but then takes direct action once he has. Before Collison went down, he had 18 points on 11 possessions.
- Go ahead and put Roddy Beaubois directly behind Flynn in the pure point guard Vegas hierarchy. Beaubois doesn't need a screen -- just a little spacing around him. He's fearless and will probably kill himself once he encounters NBA centers, but for Summer League, he's a delight. Saturday's Beaubois Line was very Flynnian: 23 points (9-for-12 from the field, 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, 5 assists).
- The Bulls have a project in James Johnson. He's capable of moving the ball, looks like a competent defender, but I don't think he's realized what kind of offensive player he is, wants to be, or the Bulls want him to be. He's 12 for his last 43 shots from the field, though he's managed 24 free throw attempts over that span.
- Washington deployed trap after trap against Blake Griffin whenever he touched the ball inside of 15 feet. With Eric Gordon sitting out, there was no one else on the floor for the Clippers who warranted any real attention. The Wizards' strategy was effective, as Griffin had his least efficient game of the week: 19 points on 21 possessions, 10 rebounds, four steals against five turnovers.
- JaVale McGee should help Washington's frontcourt rotation a good deal this season. He's got so much agility on both ends, a soft touch, and actually knows how to backpedal against a speedy guard coming off a screen. He got the better of DeAndre Jordan tonight and, prototypically, the guys have similar profiles. McGee put up a gaudy line: 19 points (9-for-11 from the field), seven blocks and four rebounds.
- Ty Lawson again took matters into his own hands. He went nuts in the first quarter against the D-League Select team with 15 points, and he was more shooter than slasher. Lawson drained five field goals in the period, three of them from long range. He finished with 21 points on 17 possessions.
- Jerryd Bayless appears really happy to be playing big minutes -- even if it's only Summer League. He's pressing a little bit, but when he works a simple drive off a high screen, then kicks it to a shooter in the corner, he's successful. Unfortunately, more times than not, it's penetration in traffic, often followed by careless baseline passes.
- Benjamin Golliver of Blazers Edge, here in Las Vegas, on Dante Cunningham: "He's been the most pleasant surprise in an otherwise dismal Summer League for Portland. Pitched by Kevin Pritchard as a Travis Outlaw clone, Cunningham has shown a more instinctive, aggressive nose for tracking down rebounds than Outlaw, but clearly doesn't yet have his shot-creating and shot-making abilities. Through three appearances in Vegas, Cunningham has shown that he's fully comfortable -- and quite effective -- shooting face-up jumpers from the elbows and the baseline, even with a hand in his face. He has found those sweet spots by staying in nearly constant motion during offensive sets and by creating space for himself during effective pick-and-pops with Jerryd Bayless. The question that followed Cunningham throughout the draft process still looms: does he have a position? His is the classic three/four tweener dilemma. On offense, his lack of 3-point range forces him to play 4 for the Blazers but his slight frame prevents him from being a true interior threat. On defense, a Blazers scout this week questioned whether he has the tools to guard multi-talented threes or the size to handle physical fours."
- DeJuan Blair recorded his second double-double of the week. Gregg Popovich on what he's getting in Blair: "A rebounder and someone who has a high effort level all the time on the boards, and running the floor. He enjoys playing, which is probably his main gift."
- James Harden would like to dunk on Shaquille O'Neal.
- Spoke to the vendors at the NBA store here. They don't have any of the rookies' jerseys in stock. Bestsellers among the vets? Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.
| Roddy Beaubois: Breaking the speed limit.
(Jack Arent/NBA via Getty Images)
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
- Anthony Morrow set a new Summer League record with 47 points against the Hornets.
- Joe Alexander, as much as anyone on the Bucks' roster, will benefit from Brandon Jennings' fluency at running the break. Alexander can run the floor well for a combo forward, and knows how to fill the lane in transition. Thursday, he also harnessed his athleticism and got points driving to the hole with authority against some slower Toronto defenders. He also ran the pick-and-roll as the ball man effectively. All in all, another good outing for Alexander.
- DeMar DeRozan: moving well off the ball. In the second quarter against the Bucks, he made a beautiful back door cut to the hole from the weak side the instant he recognized that the defense was sloughing off him a bit. The result? A perfect lob pass from Quincy Douby, and a vicious slam by DeRozan. He was also undeterred by tight coverage from Jodie Meeks at about 15 feet off the left block. Even with Meeks on top of him, DeRozan managed to get remarkable separation and elevation on his jumper under pressure. Coming hard off screens, DeRozan easily got free from Jodie Meeks. More on DeRozan from Holly MacKenzie here.
- Speaking of Meeks, he's still primarily a spot-up threat, which limits his ability to get to the line (23 attempts from the floor, but only one from the line), so it was nice to see him take it to the hole on occasion ... and finish.
- Meeks and Jennings had great chemistry on Thursday, especially in the third quarter. On a high pick-and-roll for Jennings, the rookie point guard beat the trap. When the help sloughed off Meeks, Jennings kicked a perfect pass to his shooter, and Meeks drained the shot. Meeks' next two buckets from Jennings came in transition. On both breaks, Jennings waited patiently for Meeks to spot up, then perfectly timed his pass to Meeks, hitting him in rhythm. Both shots fell. On a crucial possession in the game's final minute, Jennings found Meeks again on the drive-and-kick, for a 3-pointer that put the Bucks ahead a point. Meeks finished the game with 29 points, including 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.
- Brandon Jennings was really aggressive off screens when he split the trap and recognized that the back line rotation was slow. As a result, he forced fewer bad shots and had an easier time finishing at the cup.
- Apart from Adam Morrison, the Lakers have few recognizable names on their Summer League roster. Morrison didn't play Thursday, which left some additional shots for David Monds. The journeyman forward took full advantage of the opportunities, nailing a slew of mid-range jumpers on his way to 14 points and 6 rebounds -- may not sound like a lot, but the Lakers' summer league team is a little impoverished.
- Chase Budinger put up the best line of the day outside of Anthony Morrow: 25 points on 13 possessions. The forward out of Arizona might have the sweetest stroke in town. The challenge for most pure shooters in the NBA, of course, is finding good looks. This week, Budinger hasn't had any trouble. "He has a knack for getting open," Rockets' assistant Eltson Turner said. "He moves well without the basketball, and you can't leave him. That fits our style."
- On the day he signed a 4-year, $3.8 million contract, DeJuan Blair gave the Spurs a good look at their investment against the Thunder, scoring 20 points on 13 possessions. Blair battled underneath all afternoon, muscling up for putbacks. But there was more to Blair's repertoire, including some wily dribble moves from the top of the key. "They shouldn't have passed on me," Blair said of the Thunder.
- Thunder general manager Sam Presti is collecting versatile pieces to round out an increasingly mature Oklahoma City roster. To that end, Kyle Weaver's game is hard not to like. He wasn't the Thunder's top scorer Thursday, but he gave his team a reliable handle, solid on-ball defense for most of the night on George Hill, and some timely shooting. The Thunder's backcourt is standing room only, but in Weaver, Scott Brooks has a guy who knows his way around the court. For more on Weaver, check out Darnell Mayberry's profile in the Oklahoman.
- In the first half of the Clippers-Grizzlies game, Blake Griffin (No. 1 overall) goes for 12 points and 11 boards, while Hasheem Thabeet (No. 2 overall) goes for 4 points (0 field goals) and 1 rebound. David Thorpe at halftime: "Griffin played as if he was an undrafted player from Bulgaria trying to impress everyone in the place, in search of a job next year. Thabeet jogged around, bumped a few people, and generally seemed uninterested. Passion is a talent."
- Tarence Kinsey wins the Kevin Martin Award: 20 points on two field goals ... but 16-for-18 from the stripe.
- The Warriors' rookies serenade Anthony Randolph on his 20th birthday.
Chase Budinger: Averaging 17.8 point per game on 68% shooting.
Matt McHale of By the Horns: "It's a bad sign when fans start longing for the halcyon days of the Michael Sweetney Era. And it's especially frustrating for Bulls fans, who had to deal with the loss of Ben Gordon while the league's rich got even richer: Boston got Rasheed Wallace, Cleveland got Shaq, L.A. got Ron Artest and San Antonio got Richard Jefferson ... It makes sense that the fans wanted to see a move. Something big, something juicy. But sometimes, staying the course might be the best plan of action. Or inaction, as the case may be. As things stand right now, the Bulls have a solid core of players -- a budding All-Star-in-the-making, a few savvy vets, some developing youngsters -- and enough expiring contracts to make a major move next summer or at the trade deadline. And Chicago will certainly be a much more attractive free agent destination if the Bulls can match last season's success than if they fell apart because [Carlos] Boozer took his usual 30-40 game vacation and our backcourt players broke down from playing too many minutes. Now, if the Jazz wanted to trade Boozer for some loose parts off the Bulls' scrap pile -- Tim Thomas, Jerome James, Anthony Roberson -- then let's get it done. And while we're dreaming, maybe they'll trade us Deron Williams for Brad Miller's expiring contract. But barring some mass hysteria and insanity in Utah, I guess Bulls fans will have to be satisfied with some incremental progress and hope for the future."
Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "The only real issue with signing Brandon Bass is that -- at least technically -- he plays the position where the Magic were the deepest before his arrival. Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson gave the Magic talent and depth at power forward, making it the only position with a legitimate starter and legitimate reserve (I'd count point guard as well, but that's arguable). When a team has eight players under contract, as the Magic did last week, an all-star and a promising rookie at one position feels like an overabundance of wealth. So, at the surface, bringing in another power forward doesn't make a whole lot of sense (especially a 6-foot-7 power forward who's seemingly too small to fill in as the team's primary backup center, even if the statistics say otherwise). But that doesn't mean it was a bad signing. I love the move - like most Magic fans do - especially for the relatively inexpensive price tag. For a 23-year-old who seeps potential and has already played meaningful minutes on an upper-echelon team, $18 million over four years is a great deal. Anytime you can attain a quality player for that kind of value, you do it."
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "I love watching [DeJuan] Blair work under the boards. He has a mature sense of spacing and soft, accurate hands. His rebounding was particularly notable on the offensive end, where he consistently turned misses by his teammates into open layups and trips to the line (where he went 5-6). As will be the case with during the regular season, Blair was by no means the tallest player on the floor. But he was the only player on either team whose rebounding count reached double digits. Blair's offensive contributions weren't limited to put-backs; he showed promising signs that a well-rounded offensive game may be in his future. On the first play we ran specifically to him, Blair turned and hit a smooth 12-footer. On the next play, he received the ball at almost the exact same spot and used his defenders over-adjustment to take him off the dribble and draw the foul. Blair's mechanics are a little loose, but the origins of a reliable offensive arsenal are there."
(Photos by Andrew D. Bernstein, Doug Pensinger, Noah Graham, Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
- One of my favorite matchups of the day was Darren Collison-George Hill. As David Thorpe pointed out in his twitter thread, Hill is a brutal guy for Collison to have to deal with on the first day of class. Hill was able to shoot over Collison, shake him off the dribble, and beat him in transition with his combination of handle and speed. But Collison put together a few nice sequences of his own, including one in the third quarter on a screen-and-roll with Earl Barron: Collison was able to penetrate off the screen, then lob a pretty floating pass to Barron, who slammed it home. In general, Collison marshaled the floor with confidence. The most notable feature of his halfcourt game as a point guard: Patience (hello, UCLA). He attacked only when he had an invitation, rarely forced a pass, and executed high-percentage feeds to the right guys on numerous occasions.
- DeJuan Blair: As advertised -- intuitive, beastly rebounder (10 in 23 minutes), goes up with force on the putback, great at drawing contact inside, but occasionally lacks a plan of attack in the post. He finished with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, and 5-for-6 from the strip in his very Millsapian effort.
- Jonny Flynn communicates to his team on every offensive possession. He choreographs, directs, goads, and encourages. When teammates need to move from the weak to the strong side for an entry pass, Flynn barks out an order -- and he's almost always right. Flynn coughed the ball up seven times on Sunday against seven assists, but his management skills are there.
- Is two Summer League sessions one too many? The Thunder, the only team playing in both Summer Leagues, just came off five games in five days in Orlando, with most of their primary names logging big minutes. The team looked exhausted Sunday in its 86-57 loss to Memphis. The Thunder recorded 22 turnovers, but only 20 field goals.
- Marcus Williams managed the game perfectly for the Grizzlies. He worked the ball to the right guys at the right spots, picking up 17 assists in 28 minutes. It helps when Sam Young is nailing jumpers and Darrell Arthur is finishing with authority, but Williams simply controlled the game. "He did a great job getting into the paint," Memphis assistant Dave Joerger said. "We ran different pick-and-roll looks and he picked the defense apart." Williams is a frustrating player to figure out. His pure point skills are apparent almost every time he takes the floor. His court vision is otherworldly. But as selective as he is as a playmaker getting other guys nice looks, he takes a lot of iffy shots himself -- to say nothing of his defense, where he doesn't seem to care all that much.
- If you're the Grizzlies, Hasheem Thabeet's debut was encouraging. The Grizzlies haven't had a banger like Thabeet beneath the basket ... ever, really. He intimidated Serge Ibaka and anyone else on the Thunder who stepped foot into the paint. Will Thabeet be able to have that effect against a legitimate, veteran NBA center? If the answer is yes, Memphis will be an improved defensive squad in 2009-10, if nothing else.
- Brandon Jennings has some good instincts, but sometimes he misreads the game. A perfect example came in the second quarter against the Cavs. He drew big man Jawad Williams on the switch out on the perimeter. With the floor spread, Jennings had the opportunity to use his quicks to blow by Williams. What does he do instead? A cutesy crossover, then a step-back jumper from beyond 20 feet that wasn't close.
- Fast forward to the second half, when Jennings came out of the locker room (it's really just a curtained-off alcove in the far corner of the gym) and hit three consecutive long-distance shots. His stroke still lacked a follow-through and his balance was tipsy, but the shots fell through. David Thorpe: "The guys with good form shooting the ball, but don't have great numbers? They worry me. The guys who don't look good shooting the ball like Jennings and Ricky Rubio, but somehow find a way to make shots? Those guys will learn to shoot better. They already have the talent to hit shots now -- even with bad form. As you clean up their form, they'll put up better and better numbers." Jennings scored 23 points and dished out eight assists against only three turnovers in the Bucks' win over the Cavaliers. He went 4-for-8 beyond the arc, and worked his way to the line for six attempts -- all of it a big improvement over his first game.
Ricky Rubio tempted the hearts of both Thunder and Kings fans -- but their respective GMs went with the conservative picks. Smart long-term thinking ... or overcautiousness? Did the Spurs get the steal of the draft? And did Orlando help itself with Vince Carter?
Royce Young of Daily Thunder: "I'd been calling for [James] Harden for almost two months now. I don't think there's any player that fits us better than him. Oklahoma City was statistically the worst team at shooting guard in the league last season. Harden is talented and can do multiple things. He can step on the court tomorrow and make this team better. I truly think he's going to be a fantastic player. But for some reason I feel like the guy that just let a girl get away. Ricky Rubio was the most unknown thing about this draft. Honestly, we have no idea what he's going to do. All we've got are some YouTube clips and six games in Greece to base anything off of. But there was just something about him. I have no idea what it is. He was intriguing. He was cool. He had potential we could only imagine. And the idea of him in a Thunder uniform just got very appealing in the last 48 hours ... Common sense says James Harden is the perfect pick. We can assume Rubio was the best player available, but we don't know that. But the desire to field a freaking cool team said pick Rubio. Not to say Harden makes uncool -- I mean, he's got a beard and he wore a bow tie! -- but the flash of Rubio can't be ignored. But Sam Presti is smarter than all of us and he's got the common sense. He doesn't care about alley oops and behind-the-back passes. He cares about wins and losses. And in three years when James Harden is the perfect complementary piece to the Thunder Three, I don't think you'll care about how cool the team is."
Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom: "The decision was made with Tyreke Evans as the newest member of the Sacramento Kings and it brought about mixed emotions and feelings. I honestly thought that Ricky Rubio was the best-case scenario for the team. He seemed to be perfect for guys like Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes to develop. He seemed to be a great guy to put alongside Kevin Martin to get him open, easier shots. He seemed to be the smartest business decision with instant national exposure surely to come and international interest after that. But in the end, the Kings didn't feel like he was tough enough and that Tyreke Evans was the best player now, five years from now, and ten years from now. And you know what? Geoff Petrie is probably right about all of this. The Kings biggest problem for years was having a glitz and glamour squad that made offense look easy and fun while defense was the great divide ... The Kings were soft both physically and in spirit .. The Kings clearly decided it was time for a change in philosophy and culture. They grabbed a veteran coach who has been there before. And now they've grabbed the player to match the toughness and offensive attack that go along with that coach. Tyreke Evans means no more moments of the Kings point guard being abused on either side of the ball. From now on, the Kings are the enforcer at the point for 48 minutes. From now on, the Kings are going to be tougher and more physical with their opponents. Shots to the mouth will be responded to."
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "Those looking to react negatively to what was an unequivocally great night for the Spurs will look at the questions surrounding [DeJuan] Blair's knees and claim he isn't all he is cracked up to be. They will say he slid to 37 for a reason. I have two responses to that: First, there is no way in Hell the Spurs could have landed a more talented player at 37. Yes, there are a couple questions surrounding our early second round pick. Welcome to the reality of having only second round picks. Second, even if Blair's knees are a long-term issue, they are exactly that: A long-term issue. With the Jefferson trade, the Spurs announced their intention to make a run for a 5th title and make it now. Aside from Blake Griffin, I would argue no big was more prepared to come onto an NBA squad and readily earn significant minutes than DeJuan Blair. The truth of the matter is, being able to select Blair with the 37th pick is an unmitigated coup. Blair was a dream, someone we mentioned just in case the front office became unexpectedly aggressive and moved up into the lottery. Well, sometimes dreams do come true."
THE FINAL WORD
Orlando Magic Daily: Five reasons the Vince Carter deal makes sense for Orlando.
Nets Are Scorching: Courtney Lee -- and a whole lotta cap space -- is coming to the swamp.
Valley of the Suns: Earl Clark and PHX -- a nice fit.
(Photos by Jesse D. Garrabrant, Jennifer Pottheiser, Andy Lyons/NBAE via Getty Images)
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Jrue Holiday drops ... and might be better for it.
As recently as a few weeks ago, Jrue Holiday was a projected top 10 pick. A good number of observers felt that another year at UCLA would've served Holiday well, but there was enough collective faith in his court smarts, defense, and capacity to blossom into a productive NBA guard. Whether it was Ben Howland's slow-it-down offense, playing off the ball alongside Darren Collison, or something else, Holiday found himself as the dreaded "Last Guy Sitting in the Green Room" Thursday night, and ultimately went #17 to Philadelphia.
In the big man division, no prospect dropped farther and harder Thursday night than DeJuan Blair. Projected as a certain first-rounder and as the seventh best player in the 2009 draft class according to John Hollinger's Draft Rater, Blair was a brute force at Pittsburgh with 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game, along with a rugged brand of defense. At the combines, Blair's wingspan measured at a eye-popping 7-foot-2.
What caused Blair to slip to the seventh pick of the second round? Concerns about his knees. In high school, Blair tore both of his ACLs and had them surgically repaired. Blair's scar tissue essentially got re-absorbed by his body and the result left Blair with essentially no ACLs.
Although he's suffered no adverse effects ever since, Blair's is an unprecedented injury and one that scared off a slew of NBA executives. Though Blair literally has no ACL to tear, some team physicians feel that Blair could eventually develop a nagging issue that could eventually wear him down. As a result, Blair ended up as the #37 pick of the draft, landing with San Antonio.
Dropping in the draft is a tough indignity for a young guy to endure. In addition to the dashed expectations and losing face, there's also the monetary loss. As a second-round pick, Blair isn't even guaranteed a contract. Holiday will make less a couple million dollars less over the next four years as the 17th pick than a player who went 10th.
But once Holiday and Blair get over the initial sting, both will realize that they're in ideal situations -- not in spite of having dropped, but because of it.
Holiday joins a young Sixers team deprived of guards that went into the postseason with a shooting guard platoon of Willie Green and Lou Williams. Philly's point guard, Andre Miller, has an uncertain future with the club. In other words, there might not be a better situation for a young guard than joining the beleagured Sixers' backcourt.
Will DeJuan Blair emerge as a second-round steal for the Spurs?
By virtue of dropping to 37, Blair lands with arguably the NBA's best franchise. Not only will he join a model organization, but he'll be able to step in and fill one of the team's most glaring needs. The Spurs never found the bruiser they needed up front last season. Matt Bonner, Fabricio Oberto, Drew Gooden, and an aging Kurt Thomas all logged minutes as Tim Duncan's frontcourt mate, but none could effectively fill the role. Blair will have the opportunity to step in and help the league's 30th-ranked offensive rebounding team.
Mark Jackson, Jameer Nelson, and Josh Howard all sat around longer than expected on their respective draft nights, and each fell into ideal situations. With some serendipity and hard work, Holiday and Blair will have the same opportunities to emerge as steals on winning teams. When and if they do, the frustration of Draft Night 2009 will be a footnote.