TrueHoop: DeMar DeRozan

Five teams at a crossroads

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
8:46
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Aldridge, Anthony and Curry
Getty Images
LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony and Stephen Curry: Gridlock or glory?

Think about your favorite team then ask yourself, "What are things going to look like for the next three to five seasons?"

A degree of uncertainty will find its way into every situation, but smart teams have plans. They might be in championship-or-bust mode like Miami, Oklahoma City or the Los Angeles Lakers. They might be straight-up rebuilding like Detroit or New Orleans.

Some teams pursue a more targeted plan. The Clippers want to perform well enough to maintain Chris Paul's faith in the organization, lock him up on July 1, 2013, then keep building from there. Others, like Phoenix, lost the flash drive with the PowerPoint on the way to the presentation.

Then there are those NBA teams standing at the junction, examining the map and looking at the routes. Do they stay on course? Take the scenic route, or the practical one? Get cute and try a shortcut? Slow down and move more deliberately and keep their options open?

Such is the challenge for several NBA teams entering the 2012-13 season, with some facing a better set of options than others.

New York Knicks
New York KnicksThe Knicks' crossroads are grander and better paved than most teams in their predicament, by virtue of playing in one of the league's two premier markets. It certainly ain't the cooking in the front office, which has prepared a roster slated for another quick April ouster from the postseason.

Let's rewind: Two years ago, New Yorkers were giddy and comparatively patient. The Knicks didn't bag LeBron James in 2010, but it wasn't for a lack of trying or bad bookkeeping. They signed Amare Stoudemire and, that winter, the Garden was alive for the first time in ages. The acquisition of Carmelo Anthony midseason signaled the Knicks' official return to relevance (even if the team was playing well prior to his arrival and forked over a king's ransom to get him). Aware that the 22nd-ranked team defense would be a train wreck, the Knicks anchored the middle with Tyson Chandler in the summer of 2011.

Despite the defensive improvement last season, the Knicks couldn't score and the old dysfunction returned, pausing for only a seven-week hiatus when Jeremy Lin single-handedly thawed winter.

That brings us to the 2012-13 season. Lin is in Houston, Stoudemire is sidelined and the Knicks are indisputably Anthony's team, which was always the design in New York. If nothing else, perhaps Stoudemire's injury coupled with the success Anthony had as a power forward in Olympic competition will finally convince Melo that he's a new-wave 4. Improving the Knicks will require some innovation, because Anthony, Chandler and a band of reclamation projects, post-prime players and question marks in the backcourt won't make much noise in the playoffs. If they fail to play into May, the Knicks would begin to look a lot like Mike Woodson's Atlanta Hawks -- a team with discernible talent, but no championship aspirations.

What happens then?

The Knicks could resign themselves to a nice house in the East's upper-middle class district or, much like the Lakers did in sheer defiance of what was thought possible, they could trade on the allure of their market and coax a game-changer to New York. It won't be easy. They'd either have to part with Chandler, convince a team with cap room to absorb Stoudemire's outsized salary along with a few goodies, get a superstar approaching free agency to hold his existing team hostage in exchange for a ticket to New York -- and probably some combination of the above.

The Knicks wanted superstars to elevate their brand and incite championship aspirations among their beleaguered fans. Now it's time to manage those expectations and find an acceptable alternative should the team fall short of them.




Golden State Warriors
Golden State WarriorsThe new regime in the Bay is committed to a serious rebranding campaign. It's not just the smart new threads and the Sn°hetta-designed jewel box slated for downtown San Francisco. The Warriors finally seem primed to be more than the NBA's novelty act. They're practicing defense again in Oakland, using analytics for the first time to make personnel decisions and, aside from a hiccup or two on the cap-management side, forging something that looks like a future.

The Warriors traded roboshooter Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut, one of the five best defensive big men in the game ... when he can move on two feet. Stephen Curry has proven he's far more than a spot-up shooter ... when he can move on two feet. Add a little seasoning to Golden State's young wing tandem of Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, and you can pencil them in for the opener across the bay. David Lee makes a mint, but he contributes consistently and the Warriors have virtually nothing else on the books in two years, so why worry?

But that's the thing about cap flexibility -- it's a luxury that can lure smart people into iffy decisions. When you're a front office strapped for cash, you have to be selective in your decision-making. But when you have clean books, you can be tempted to populate the ledger with all kinds of stuff that isn't good for you.

The biggest decision facing the Warriors over the next week is whether to extend Curry. If not for his wonky ankle, this is a no-brainer for Golden State and even with all the concern, still is. But the cap can be unforgiving, and paying max or near-max money to a chronically-injured player can be devastating to a team's long-term ambitions. Bogut, the team's highest-paid player, has a bum left ankle and there's no timetable for his return.

The Warriors don't have to make a contractual call on Bogut for two more seasons, but it's hard for a team to forge a path without a vision of its future core. And, practically, it's difficult to achieve goals if there's $30 million worth of stars in street clothes -- just ask the Houston Rockets.

That's the gamble for the Warriors: Do they construct a team for the foreseeable future around the inside-out threat of Curry and Bogut, knowing it's very possible their two best players might not share a court for weeks, maybe seasons, on end?

Do the Warriors commit to Curry, then wait and see on Bogut once they have a clearer prognosis on his health, knowing they'll likely have some money to find an alternate big man? Do they look at their promising young wings as the guys who will usher in the new era, a Klay Thompson-Harrison Barnes ticket rather than Curry-Bogut? Can Golden State craft a clever contingency plan whereby there's some insurance in the backcourt should Curry's ankle be an indefinite concern?

Or do the Warriors act without prejudice, knowing that the revenue they'll generate in the most state-of-the-art arena in North America (with some of the most expensive seats in sports) can compensate for a lot of dead payroll?




Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail BlazersThe rug was pulled from the Rose Garden floor some time ago. What was once the most tantalizing roster in the league has been stripped of its jewels, with Brandon Roy's retirement and relocation and Greg Oden's injuries.

Beyond those bad beats, the Trail Blazers no longer play the flavor of deliberate, possession-focused basketball they did under Nate McMillan, for better or worse. Last season, the Trail Blazers were adrift. They no longer controlled the rim -- on either end -- and many of those familiar patterns that were solidified during the Age of Promise went missing.

LaMarcus Aldridge is a refined, reliable power forward -- probably a Top 15 player -- but is he truly the centerpiece of a contending team? What if the best blueprint of the team going forward has him at center in a more agile offense? Is he flexible and resolute enough to not only tolerate that adjustment, but embrace it?

The first question is a difficult one, though one that can be answered more optimistically if Damian Lillard can evolve into a lead guard who can simplify the game for Aldridge. The Trail Blazers' big man has spoken glowingly about how easy the game came to him after being paired with Andre Miller in Portland. It's unfair to expect Lillard to find that kind of command before he gets a couple of years of NBA basketball under his belt -- and right now he's more of a pick-and-roll scorer than a manager or distributor -- but Aldridge can screen-and-pop with the best shooting big men in the game and should be able to make ample use of Lillard's talent.

The Trail Blazers also re-upped Nicolas Batum long term, defensible given the spreadsheet. Throw in Wes Matthews -- probably a better third guard than a fixture at the 2, but the team's third or fourth best player -- a raw rookie center, and a couple of imports. Is that a foundation that can grow into legitimate power in the West? If you're a Trail Blazers fan or executive, how many teams would you happily exchange futures with? Three years ago, that number was minuscule. Today, you're making a lot of outgoing calls.

A creative Terry Stotts will work hard to develop the Lillard-Aldridge tandem to its full potential, and it could be something special. But if the chemistry doesn't translate into a winning combination, and Aldridge grows uncomfortable as Banana No. 1, do you reshuffle the deck? And, if so, is Aldridge an asset you'd discard if the right offer came along? Could you afford not to?

The Trail Blazers don't figure to win much in 2012-13, and will likely have another high pick in June to add more young talent -- as well as some money to throw around -- but it's going to be a painstaking process.




Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ersEntering the offseason, the Sixers' crossroads looked something like a busy London roundabout. The team could take any number of routes, and there was an intelligent case to be made for each of them.

Hard-bitten realists argued it was time to blow up a core that was unlikely to finish higher than a Hawkish No. 4 or 5 seed. Romantics felt that the Sixers' young talent had finally cracked the code on Doug Collins' safety-first system. If the versatile roster could come back largely intact in 2012-13 and buy in for a full season, they could take what was already a Top 3 defense, win the Atlantic then, come spring, play with the elite.

Instead, the Sixers made a lateral move in trading Andre Iguodala, their best defender and ball-mover, for a true inside threat in Andrew Bynum. They also lost Lou Williams, one of their few creators outside of Iguodala.

So who are the Sixers now and what can we reasonably expect them to become, especially with Bynum playing out the final year of his contract?

Performance will dictate everything. With Bynum anchoring the post, Philadelphia will no longer need a cab to get to the rim. For a team that relied on an unhealthy diet of midrange jumpers, that's no small thing. But indispensable defenders like Iguodala don't come around every day. Systems matter, but you can't just plug Evan Turner into the small forward slot and expect the same results. Bynum is not exactly Collins' idea of a big-man defender. On pick-and-roll coverage, Bynum is a chronic dropper (in fairness, that has generally been the scheme employed by the Lakers), and he'll be pressed rather persistently by Collins to put some more bite into his defensive game.

Let's say the Sixers drop a few of spots defensively, rise a few offensively and their final tally looks a lot like previous seasons. What then? You probably try to lock up Bynum long-term, but is there anyone else on the roster who you'd automatically wave through the door? Do you punt on Turner? What do you need to see from Jrue Holiday to warrant handing him the reins for the next five years? Does all that add up to contention?

Philadelphia will have plenty of flexibility going forward, but cap room isn't an end unto itself. At some point, the Sixers need to figure out what the plan is along the perimeter, and whether their existing platoon of curios and vets can do the job around Bynum.




Toronto Raptors
Toronto RaptorsHead coach Dwane Casey got the hard work out of the way in Season 1, taking a team ranked dead last in team defense and catapulting it to 12th by installing some conservative principles and demanding full effort from the entire roster.

There were other bright spots, with more on the way. When Andrea Bargnani was healthy, he played some of the best basketball of his career. Once Jonas Valanciunas gets a feel for the NBA game, he'll demand attention down low. New acquisition Kyle Lowry can generate instant offense, which should also help.

There's a lot to like here, but still a ton of work to do to improve upon a 25th-ranked offense. The Raptors desperately need to open up some space in the half court to prevent the rigor mortis that bogged them down last season. Bargnani, when he's out there, helps inordinately, and Lowry can hit a shot from the perimeter and break down defenses off the bounce. But the Raptors simply can't build the kind of offense they want with their current supply of wings -- and that sober reality starts and ends with DeMar DeRozan, who enters the final guaranteed year of his rookie deal.

DeRozan, the Raptors' leader in minutes played each of the past two seasons, has never posted a player efficiency rating (PER) above the league average and it's not as if he's making up for it as a defender. He's not a proficient outside shooter, makes iffy reads on the pick-and-roll and is a ball-stopper in isolation with a less-than-stellar track record of converting those opportunities into anything -- a creator without much creativity.

To put it bluntly, there are very few things DeRozan is doing to help the Toronto Raptors win basketball games and it's hard to imagine an efficient offense that relies on him for a significant chunk of possessions.

The Raptors raised eyebrows by selecting Terrence Ross with the No. 8 pick in June. While Ross is no polished product on the offensive end, he's a Casey type of player, with quick feet on defense and a heady awareness of what's happening on the floor. Ross could watch tape of Tony Allen and craft a career as a stopper with a few offensive tricks. He'd be a natural replacement for DeRozan, provided he can find his shot or, at the very least, recognize his limitations and minimize mistakes. That would be an easier proposition if there was another wing on the floor who could create.

If the Raptors let DeRozan walk, they'd have some dough to find someone -- anyone -- who can score efficiently at the wing. Once that happens, the ball will start to move again in Toronto, this time with a stalwart defense to complement it.

Friday Bullets

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
2:18
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

What they're thinking at Drew-Goodman

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
11:14
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- If there's one guy who isn't sweating the prospect of a missed paycheck, it's Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Derrick Williams.

"I'm good," Williams said. "I don't have any money yet anyway."

Williams is one of more than a dozen NBA players at the rematch on Sunday evening between Washington, D.C.'s Goodman League team and the squad representing Los Angeles' Drew League.

To diehard NBA fans, most of the faces here are recognizable -- Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, James Harden, John Wall, Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan, Trevor Ariza and Michael Beasley, among others. But for spectators in the stands who wanted to double-check their work, the nameplates stitched to the back of the jerseys provided no help. All of them read "BBNS," as in "Basketball Never Stops."

That may be the case on rec courts and in gyms across the country, but barring a deal between owners and players by Monday, basketball will stop in the NBA. Absent an agreement, the NBA is expected to announce the cancelation of the first two weeks of its regular season.

Canvas enough NBA players, and you won't get much diversity of viewpoints on the negotiations -- but there's certainly a disparity of knowledge and intensity of opinion. In some respects, it's not all that different than any industry gathering or social function. Some people feel an obligation to know what's going on, while others find current affairs to be outside their field of interest.

Harden falls squarely into the first camp. Prior to the game, the Thunder guard said he wouldn't rubber stamp a proposal, even if he received a personal call from union president Derek Fisher.

"I'd want to know what the deal is," Harden said. "Derek is someone you definitely listen to, but I'd also want to talk with the big guys -- LeBron, KD, and the rest."

Asked if he could see any scenario where a 50-50 split in basketball-related income (BRI) would be acceptable, Harden shook his head.

What's your drop-dead number?

"Fifty-three," Harden insisted. "No less."

DeRozan said he had faith in Fisher and the union and was predisposed toward following any proposal submitted to him by the union.

"I trust Derek and everyone who's working for us. They feed us with information about everything that's going on. If he told me [he had a deal he liked], I'm definitely going to trust his judgment."

But like Harden, DeRozan flatly rejected the idea that a 50-5o split in BRI was acceptable. When asked whether he'd reconsider an even split if that was the proposal presented to the players by their leadership, DeRozan reacted as if it were a trick question.

Others like Nick Young and JaVale McGee appeared less engaged in the proceedings or, at least, less confident expressing their opinions.

Young is ecstatic to be back in Los Angeles where he received a ton of all-City honors while in high school. He beamed when asked about the thrill of playing in a star-studded Drew-Goodman game, but less enthused to entertain questions about the lockout.

"I believe in Fish and I believe in the whole thing," Young said. "Whatever they do, I'm behind it."

On the prospect of a 50-50 split?

"I'm not sure," Young said. "Whatever they think."

Young was the only player to punt the question.

"We all have to act as a whole and come up with it," McGee said. "So we can't really say one by one."

Like Young, rookie Williams is just giddy to be at the party in Long Beach. It's not that he doesn't have anything at stake in the negotiations, just that there are guys far more qualified than him to represent the collective opinion of NBA players.

"I'm going to leave that to [the veterans]," Williams said. "Like Kobe. He's been there since the first [lockout]. He knows what he's talking about. He knows what's happening. He's played through the whole time they've had the [expired CBA], so I'm going to let them handle all that."

Boozer bullish in pick-and-roll Friday

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
10:33
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The one area that had not been a positive for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer entering Friday's game against the Nets was his play in the pick-and-roll.
Carlos Boozer
Boozer


Many expected that when partnered with point guard Derrick Rose, Boozer would be a force rolling to the basket. But entering Friday, Boozer was shooting just 45.9 percent from the field as the roll man in the pick-and-roll (according to video tracking by Synergy Sports Technology). That was bad enough for his second-worst shooting percentage in any play type this season (he rated worse in isolation plays).

Friday in a 90-81 win over the Nets, Boozer enjoyed one of his most successful games in the pick-and-roll. In four plays as the roll man, Boozer contributed three field goals and six of his 20 total points. That included a baseline dunk over Travis Outlaw in the third quarter.

Boozer is one of the more efficient post scorers in the halfcourt. Of all players with at least 50 shot attempts, he ranks fifth in the NBA in points-per-shot in the post.

But as Friday’s performance in the pick-and-roll shows, Boozer is still growing with his new teammates.

Even as he's growing, the Bulls are 12-2 since a loss to the Boston Celtics, posting the third-best record in the NBA during that time. Only the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have been better. Boozer has regained his All-Star form and been one of the more dominating players in the NBA. In those 14 games, Boozer is averaging 22.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and is shooting 56 percent from the field. He has nine double-doubles, including seven games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The other statistically-interesting story from the NBA's early New Year's Eve games was DeMar DeRozan's monstrous second half in a 114-105 loss to the Houston Rockets. DeRozan had 29 points in the last two quarters, tied for the fourth-most by any player in any half this season. Kevin Martin's 32-point first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 11 tops the list.

Chase Budinger
Budinger
DeRozan finished with 37 points, but the Raptors were outscored by 14 points when he was on the floor. The more valuable effort came from Houston's Chase Budinger, who scored 22 points, and was plus-27 in 24 minutes off the bench.

Budinger has had two straight strong efforts, this one surpassing the last one against the Heat, when he registered 11 points in 16 minutes, and a plus-12.

Thursday Bullets

August, 12, 2010
8/12/10
6:57
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • J.A. Adande and Sam Smith offer two evocative impressions on Scottie Pippen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday.
  • Albert Lyu of Think Blue Crew has put together a series of compelling work on the blocked shot. Today he unveils part three, which examines which types of shots are most and least commonly blocked. Here's an interesting finding: "19.73% of all generic layups were blocked in 2007-2010."
  • Neil Paine of Basketball Reference's blog looks at how teams with unusually high turnover in personnel traditionally fare the next season. The post offers further evidence that watching the 1978-79 San Diego Clippers would've been a joyous ride.
  • A fine, fine blog post from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Cunningham after observing Larry Drew's assistant coach clinic. Not only did Cunningham get to watch Tyrone Hill play the role of Al Horford, but he witnessed a more fluid game plan than the one that the one Hawks fans were accustomed to: "For weeks L.D. has said his system would 'force the ball to move' and I get that now. Things happen so fast there’s not much opportunity for holding the ball. The screens and cuts happen quickly and if the first option is not there then the ball quickly swings the other way, leading to move movement. Not much possession time is spent on the one- or even two-man game. Each guy gets a chance to touch the ball at different spots on the floor. Decisions must be made quickly for things to flow correctly."
  • Trey Kerby of Ball Don't Lie visits with Kevin Durant. The interview gets off to a fun start: " Trey Kerby: I know you're going to deny it, but ... Kevin Durant: Then why are you going to ask? Why you have to ask me this, Trey? (laughing)."
  • The average ticket price for the Heat's home opener in Miami against Orlando? That will be $806 please. (Hat Tip: Magic Basketball) For the Bobcats home opener in Charlotte against Indiana on the same night, you can get into the lower corners for $51 per ticket.
  • There's little discernible excitement for Derrick Favors outside of New Jersey and specific precincts in Atlanta, but I'm not sure why. As Devin Kharpertian demonstrates through video, Favors is an explosive force with a soft touch around the rim. 20 percent of Favors' field goals at Georgia Tech came on dunks which, when you consider the Jackets' guard play, is worth noting.
  • Unlike Favors, Al Harrington is a known quantity, but his versatility still warrants examination. Fortunately, Jeremy Wagner has opened up the Roundball Mining Company Film Room for regular showings of Harrington's irregular game.
  • Rahat Huq of Red94, Ryan Schwan of Hornets247, Jared Wade of 8 points, 9 seconds and Sebastian Pruiti of Nets Are Scorching gather around the virtual roundtable and discuss Wednesday's four-team trade. Huq has some interesting misgivings about Ariza's defense: "The issue of Ariza’s defense is a contentious one. His reputation precedes him, but his is a reckless, instinctual approach, garnering him gaudy steals totals but often leaving his teammates scrambling to rotate after blown coverage. Still, this manner can be conducive to forcing tempo if that’s your cup of tea."
  • The Hornets have long needed some help on the wings. Here's a stat pack from Hornets247 on how Ariza and Marco Belinelli can help.
  • Indy Cornrows breaks down Darren Collison's stellar rookie campaign.
  • Jeff Skibiski of Forum Blue & Gold on Shannon Brown: "Shannon’s insatiable appetite for scintillating dunks and seemingly endless energy has been one of the most exciting facets of the Lakers’ past two title teams. In many ways, I think this is what ultimately hurt Shannon more than anything in his disappointing dunk contest appearance. Like Kobe, Brown is more a jaw-dropping in-game dunker, which in my opinion, is a much more valuable skill set to have than the creative costume faire we’ve see at the past few All-Star Weekends. After the viral 'Let Shannon Dunk' campaign, his lackluster performance in the dunk contest was definitely a lowlight of last season, but I don’t think it’s indicative of much of anything as far as his play with the Lakers is concerned."
  • Roland Lazenby joins the Los Angeles Times' Lakers Roundtable to discuss Jerry West and the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team under coach Pete Newell.
  • Zarar Siddiqi of Raptors Republic: "[I]t’s easier to be a defensive specialist than it is an offensive weapon, the latter requires a degree of tangible skill like shooting, dribbling, creativity and finishing whereas playing defense is more about effort. I’m not suggesting that playing defense doesn’t require skill, but it’s a skill that is born of effort (which Doc Rivers swears is a skill). Got that?"
  • Nate Robinson's home court in Seattle.
  • Brandon Rush and DeMar DeRozan: Two native Angelenos with two different ideas of go-to joints. Advantage Rush, not only for restaurant choice but his willingness to order breakfast food in the middle of the day.

Thursday Bullets

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
12:08
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Day Eight Las Vegas summer league roundup

July, 17, 2010
7/17/10
11:17
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Summer league action can be a tough place for a skill-to-size big man to brandish the full breadth of his game. Much of the action consists of speedy guards buzzing through traffic or one-on-one isolations on the block for post players who need their reps. For a player like Detroit first-round pick Greg Monroe, whose finest moments often occur in the high post as a facilitator, the experience is like being a tenor in a death metal band.

Jack Arent/NBAE/Getty Images
Greg Monroe: A full toolbox


True to form, Monroe had a shaky start in Las Vegas. In his first three summer league games, he converted only 11 of his 26 shots from the field. Many of those smart passes that were Monroe's hallmark at Georgetown were flubbed by unfamiliar teammates which, in turn, made Monroe a more tentative, less decisive player.

Monroe got on track in his fourth game against Miami on Wednesday. Rather than try to conform his deferential style to the ragtag play of summer league, he looked to score, and did so efficiently -- 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field and 8-for-10 from the stripe.

On Friday against New York, Monroe unfurled his complete range of skills for his most complete performance of the week. He finished with 27 points (8-for-10 from the field) and 14 rebounds. Monroe was both playmaker and scorer, facilitator and dominator. He showcased some strong post-and-seal sequences, a nifty soft hook and threw an outlet pass the length of the floor to Marquez Hayes for an easy transition finish.

"As the week progressed, I got a lot more comfortable," Monroe said. "I got into a groove today."

No big man in the 2010 draft class has a more aesthetically pleasing offensive repertoire, something that was captured on a single play in the first half when he delivered a no-look interior pass in the paint, through traffic, to his baseline cutter. When the ball clanked out, Monroe -- a prolific collegiate rebounder -- grabbed it, then muscled his way to the rim through a scrum of Knick defenders for a basket-and-one. It was an assertive possession for a guy sometimes unfairly tagged with the soft label.

For young, versatile bigs, balancing the instincts to create opportunities for others with a need to establish yourself as a scorer can be an enormous burden. With the ball in your hands, it's often paralyzing to weigh all those choices as the defense swarms toward you. Encountering NBA double-teams is one of the hardest lessons for centers and power forwards, which makes Monroe's capacity to deal with defensive pressure vital to his success. On several occasions, Monroe eluded traps along the sideline by merely putting the ball on the deck, dribbling out of trouble, then making a sharp pass to a teammate up top to ignite a ball reversal.

"It's about accepting the double-team, but also attacking it," Monroe said. "I was very comfortable when they came with double-teams trying to make plays."

Monroe reads defenses inordinately well. Unlike so many young centers and power forwards, he's able to keep the ball moving. For a Detroit team that finished 21st in offensive efficiency and 23rd in assist rate, those gifts will help unclog the morass in the Pistons' half court.
  • Toney Douglas' evolution continues to progress nicely. At Florida State, Douglas was primarily a scoring, slashing guard who performed Ronnie Brewerish work off the ball and served as the Seminoles' lockdown defender. Under the tutelage of the Seminoles' staff, he began the process of refining his pure point skills. On Friday, Douglas was a willing and capable distributor. Early, he skidded a pass across the baseline from the right corner to the left to a diving Bill Walker. Douglas also ran some nice two-man sets with rookie Jerome Jordan. Douglas' development is ongoing, but he increasingly looks like a guard capable of running a competent offensive unit.
  • On Friday, John Wall has his best decision-making outing of summer league. He made it simple for himself in the half court. Start with a high pick-and-roll with JaVale McGee. If an opening materialized for either himself or his big man, Wall capitalized on it. If the defense contained the action, Wall swung it weak side. The streamlined approach paid off. After coughing the ball up 19 times over his first three games, Wall limited his turnovers to two.
  • Will Jonas Jerebko ever be more than the quintessential energy guy off the bench? The Detroit second-year forward moves with more resolve than anyone on the court, but his limited skill set away from the glass translates into more chaos than production. That's not to say Jerebko's activity doesn't have a place on the floor, but it's probably more useful in Detroit's less structured second unit.
  • Ed Davis showed off his big bag of tricks against Sacramento: 17 points, seven rebounds and five swats in 29 minutes. Comfort (or lack thereof) is a condition so often used to describe young big men in summer league, and Davis was as settled and poised as any of the lottery bigs on Friday. He exhibited timing, a soft touch and fluidness on both sides of the ball and, above all, patience. Davis rarely takes an ill-advised shot and stays grounded defensively until a shot-blocking opportunity presents itself.
  • There aren't two guys in Las Vegas who love playing together more than DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems. On every break, each knows what the other's intentions are. At times, they make beautiful music together.
  • The best descriptor for Larry Sanders? Grown-up. Sanders knows his way around a basketball court. He's a vocal, standout team defender who knows where and, more important, when his help is needed. Offensively, he sets up low on the block -- primed for the deep catch -- and wins every race to the rim in transition. When he steps out to 17 feet, Sanders launches a face-up jumper with an air-tight rotation on the ball. Sanders may never be a Top 5 power forward in the league, but his fundamentals suggest he's going to be a pretty effective player for a very long time.
  • Joe Borgia, vice president of referee operations and George Tolliver, the NBA director of D-League officials, sit courtside directly in front of press row where they evaluate game officials. A half hour prior to the Wizards-Hornets game, Washington summer league coach Sam Cassell came over to emphatically protest a call from the Wizards' last game. Cassell felt that the official who whistled the play was out of position. His monologue went on for a good three minutes, as Borgia and Tolliver politely listened, then offered an explanation. Cassell was only marginally satisfied as he walked away, after which Borgia, with a deadpan smile, said, "He has absolutely no idea what he's talking about."
  • David Thorpe on Donte Greene: "The good: He has all the spirit you want a player on your team to have. He cares about his teammates and it's obvious. He's selfless in his play and he competes hard -- he cares about winning. He's also capable of having good shooting and scoring games, like he had today (20 points). The bad: He had 40 points in his first ever summer league game two years ago for Houston. So we've always known he's capable of having big games. Most players develop naturally, meaning they improve incrementally as their bodies get stronger and they learn the game better. What we're looking for are players who need to make big jumps, but that hasn't happened for Donte. He's in his third year now. At what point are the Kings going to get tired of waiting? That's a fair question."
  • Aside from hitting the glass and the occasionally effective defensive stand one-on-one in the post, it's hard to find a sphere of the game where Joey Dorsey helps his team win basketball games. He's more likely to trap himself too far beneath the backboard than he is to get off a quality shot at close range.
  • The monstrous stylings of JaVale McGee were on full display. In the first quarter, McGee got loose on a dribble drive. As he romped into the paint and elevated toward the rim, McGee went behind his back while airborne, then dropped the ball through the hoop. Then in the fourth quarter, McGee ignited the crowd in Cox Pavilion with a transition posterization of fan favorite Kyle Hines.
  • Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns on Earl Clark: "In summer league Clark has yet to show bona-fide NBA skills. He settles for contested jumpers that he misses far too often (both in summer league and the NBA), he has been no better than a mediocre rebounder and even on a team in which he could be the star he hasn’t exactly been a playmaker."
  • What's in Blake Griffin's knapsack?
  • Summer league fan uni watch: A Timberwolves J.R. Rider jersey and a Bullets Gheorghe Muresan jersey.

Day Five Las Vegas summer league roundup

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
12:35
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
At summer league, athleticism is the most commonly cited variable to distinguish NBA-caliber players from the rest of the talent. DeMar DeRozan's athletic gifts established him as a Top 10 pick in 2009, despite an underwhelming one-and-done season at USC. DeRozan displayed his explosiveness and agility for much of the 2009-10 season at varying levels of refinement, finishing his rookie campaign with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 12.58. He showed strength (finishing near the rim) and weakness (playmaking) in the precise areas where you'd expect an athlete to succeed and fail.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Can DeMar DeRozan fill the void in Toronto?


Chris Bosh's departure leaves the Raptors with a vacuum in their offense, and DeRozan is probably the only player on the roster with the dynamism to fill that void. But to be the name on the marquee in Toronto, DeRozan will have to graduate from an athlete who can ball to a ballplayer who can leverage his athleticism. If he's going to achieve as a shooting guard, he must extend his range to beyond the arc, where he converted only four shots during his entire rookie season. DeRozan will also need to apply all that athleticism and length against the scorers who are torching Toronto on a regular basis.The Raptors finished dead last in defensive efficiency last season. As he enters his sophomore season DeRozan is well-aware of this opportunity, and the improvement in his game it will require on both ends of the floor.

"If I want to be more effective, I really have to slow down and not only use my athleticism all the time," DeRozan said. "I have to learn how to play different kinds of ways and I'm learning."

On Tuesday, we saw glimpses of DeRozan's learning curve and his expanding game. He scored 23 points, shooting 10-for-15 shooting from the floor. Although he unleashed some ferocious dunks, there was substance and nuance to go along with the aerial effects. DeRozan showed off a tighter handle against pressure, something that hampered his one-on-one game at times last season. That added confidence in his ballhandling allowed DeRozan to make better decisions off the dribble, whether it was spinning away from help defenders or finding a seam.

"Athletes last for [only] so long," DeRozan said. "Being young, I want to develop now so that I can go 50-50 with my game -- skills, then use my athleticism when I have to."

DeRozan still exhibited plenty of that raw athleticism, especially in tandem with Sonny Weems, his closest friend on the team. The two wingmen teamed up on consecutive alley-oops in the second quarter. The first jam came in the half court when Weems snuck behind the Houston defense on a dive to the hoop, where DeRozan found him with a lob. On the next possession -- a break in transition -- Weems returned the favor when DeRozan ran the baseline and met Weems' pass at the rim for the slam.

"That's what young guns do," DeRozan said. "When we came out, Sonny said he was going to go back door and I threw it to him. Then I knew when we were on the fast break together, I knew he was going to throw it up."

DeRozan's primary defensive assignment on Tuesday was staying with Chase Budinger (and occasionally Jermaine Taylor) in Houston's active three-man sets, closing out on the second-year sharpshooter and staying with him in transition. For the most part, DeRozan succeeded on all three accounts. He selectively provided help, but usually opted to stay glued to his man.

"I need to improve my defense, especially going at the 2 position, going against players like Kobe [Bryant], Ray Allen, those type of guys every night."

Evidence gathered at summer league has to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. As DeRozan himself suggests, there's simply no substitute for meaningful NBA games. Matt Janning and Chase Budinger aren't exactly comps for Bryant or Allen, but at least DeRozan acknowledges that the trajectory of his growth as a player will be central to the Raptors' fortunes.

To return to respectability, Toronto will need a superstar -- and there's only one candidate on their roster.
  • Yes, that was J.R. Smith out on the floor starting for the Nuggets. You can't find Smith on the published roster, nor on any of the box scores from the Nuggets' first three games here in Las Vegas. So what's he doing here? "I'm just working out," Smith said. "I'd rather play somewhere like this than a high school gym and get hurt." Smith is rehabbing his left ankle. "Of course it's not the NBA season, but it feels good to see some familiar faces and feels good to come out and play."
  • James Johnson's teammates spent a lot of time telling Chicago second-year forward where to set up offensively in the half court. When Johnson doesn't have the ball in his hands, he floats purposelessly around the floor. Should he work off the ball to elude his man? Should he go to the ball? Often, Johnson has no idea. On the positive side, Johnson has some impressive ball skills. He has the handle and agility to find seams to the basket -- and the strength to finish. Unfortunately, he doesn't display the desire or wherewithal to make a play when he encounters heavy traffic.
  • DeMarcus Cousins posted another strong showing. The numbers were solid -- 19 points and 12 rebounds -- but the breadth of Cousins' game was most impressive. Cousins displayed a lot of polish against the Lakers' squad. Whether he was delivering a nice pass against collapsing defenders to a diving Omri Casspi for a slam, or working Derrick Caracter off the dribble from the top of the arc (finishing with a soft hook off the glass), Cousins revealed finesse to accompany that power. He even drained a jumper from 20 feet and launched a smart outlet pass that led to a bucket on the break for Casspi. Above all, he's still showing signs of becoming a pick-and-roll force. On one possession, he set a high screen for point guard Donald Sloan, then made a beeline to the rim, flushing Sloan's missed shot for a putback. Even on Cousins' misses (he finished 8-for-20 from the field), he unveils a range of skill. There's a whole lot to be explored here.
  • If Dan Dickau can play NBA ball, then it seems to make sense that Matt Bouldin should. The big point guard out of Gonzaga can deliver a sharp pass, pressure the ball, fight through screens and make good decisions with the ball in late shot-clock situations. At 6-foot-5, he has NBA size at the position.
  • On a high ball screen, the man guarding the screener is charged with the responsibility of letting the man about to be screen know the pick is coming. In the opening possession of the Houston-Toronto game, the Raptors' Joey Dorsey failed to do that and got an earful from the Toronto coaching staff. In a sparsely filled arena on a Tuesday afternoon, that bark reverberated from the rafters. Suffice it to say that, for the rest of the game, you could hear "by yourself!" and "right! right! right!" every time Houston was in a ball-screen set.
  • Jonny Flynn interviews Wesley Johnson after Matthews' first summer league game.
  • Brian Kamenetzky talks to Lakers' point guard Ibrahim Jaaber.
  • Bret LaGree of Hoopinion on Othello Hunter: "Three weeks ago Atlanta Hawks Assistant General Manager Dave Pendergraft called Othello Hunter's season-and-a-half with the team as an experiment they didn't see through. Hunter appeared in just 23 games for 125 minutes with the Hawks. Despite having no immediate need for him, the Hawks assigned Hunter to the D-League for just 3 games during the 2008-09 season. After the Hawks released him in January, he finished the 2010 season in Greece, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes per game for Ilisiakos. His first stretch of regular playing time since his senior season at Ohio State may have given Hunter the confidence to again demonstrate his strengths on the glass and around the basket. Through four games with the undefeated Denver Nuggets summer league team, Hunter has again produced when given playing time, averaging 13 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes per game while making more than two-thirds of his field goal attempts."
  • D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog and ESPN Los Angeles on Patty Mills: "Most 6-foot point guards with diminutive frames would be weary of mixing it up, but Mills isn't your typical guard. Despite his stature, Mills is a scorer first and foremost who actually does some of his best work off the ball. One display of his aptitude without the rock came when Mills hurled himself at a Hornets defender almost twice his size, setting such a thick baseline screen that his own man had to scurry off to help. The suddenly wide-open Mills then floated to the perimeter for a clean 3, bringing his total on the evening to 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. In Mills, the Blazers look to have another threat off the bench who can pack a punch offensively, whether he's the primary ball-handler or not. With players like Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless typically dominating the ball, Mills' abilities away from the play should prove valuable going forward.
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on Hasheem Thabeet: "As he often does, Thabeet showed his shot blocking ability, rejecting three shots, but he still looked unsure of himself on offense. 20 seconds into the game he caught a pass and brought it down to his chest, allowing a guard to sneak in to tie him up. Later in the game he grabbed a rebound and again brought the ball down low before watching it get slapped away by a much smaller player. While signs of progress are there, Thabeet was 6-9 from the free throw line and rotated well enough on defense that his coaches were very vocal in their praise from the bench more than once, Tuesday's game reinforced the idea that Thabeet is still very much a work in progress."
  • Joe Gerrity of Hornets247 on Quincy Pondexter: "The first-round pick continues to impress on the defensive end. He's active off the ball and has shown the capability to stay in front of his man, something the Hornets desperately needed last year on the perimeter. Under the tutelage of new coach Monty Williams the Hornets are expecting an immediate contribution from Pondexter. Offensively he's a quality finisher and capable of cutting to the hole or hitting a pull up jumper at an NBA level. Before too long he should be in contention with Julian Wright to receive substantial minutes in relief of the aging Peja Stojakovic."

Friday Bullets

February, 12, 2010
2/12/10
11:16
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Wednesday Bullets

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
1:19
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

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
  • Chase Budinger Chase Budinger: Averaging 17.8 point per game on 68% shooting.
    (Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

  • 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

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • The Knicks' Toney Douglas continued to struggle shooting the ball, but he performed his primary function as floor general quite well. He gave the Knicks what they needed at the point -- game management, penetration and kicking, creating for others, and, most of all, solid on-ball defense at that position. Douglas now has 21 assists to only two turnovers in his two games. Not bad for a guy who started out as a combo guard. 
  • Austin Daye The Pistons' order of the Daye
    (Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

  • Jordan Hill is at his strongest when he's facing up to the basket, but too often he rushes himself when he has the ball in the post. Several times on Wednesday, he lost track of where he was on the block, then flung an off-balanced shot up from close range. Hill also seemed a little passive as a post defender, even against the likes of Trent Plaisted. Hill stayed in close proximity on defense to his assigned man, but rarely tried to knock his guy off his spot. In general, the closer Hill was to the basket, the less comfortable he was.
  • You have to love a player who's useful at any spot on the court. Austin Daye is that guy for Detroit. He's a new wave three -- able to work as the ballhandler on the pick-and-roll, drive to the cup from the perimeter, post up against most small forwards, use a screen the right way, and hit from long range. Against the Knicks on Wednesday, he finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. 
  • DaJuan Summers was the butter and egg man down low for the Pistons. I can't quite figure out whether to classify him as a small or power forward. IMG's Mike Moreau referred to him as a "Power 3." Whatever he is, Summers continued to leverage his ability to face up for opportunities to get inside. There's a lot of offensive weaponry there, and he can clean the glass, too. His scoring line: 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the field, and 5-for-7 from the stripe. 
  • Joe Alexander did a much better job off-the-ball finding space on the floor where teammates could hit him for open looks -- not just on the perimeter, but in Scola-territory along the baseline at 15 feet. The Alexander-Taj Gibson matchup was an interesting one and it was anything but a pitching duel. Alexander finished 9-for-16 from the field, Gibson 6-for-9. Gibson was able to exploit his length against Alexander, while Alexander used his versatility and triple-threat skills to beat Gibson. Meanwhile, Gibson became the second player in Summer League to rack up 10 fouls. The Spurs' Ian Mahinmi was the first Tuesday against Denver. Gibson now has 19 fouls in two games. 
  • Summer League is the perfect setting for an athlete like Amir Johnson to show off his wares under the basket. Johnson was an efficiency machine inside for the Bucks: 17 points on 11 possessions, along with eight rebounds. He owned the paint, gobbling up offensive boards, going up strong with the putbacks, either converting or getting fouled (11 free throw attempts for the game). Defensively, he was smart and physical, blocking shots and igniting breaks with sharp, quick outlet passes to Brandon Jennings
  • After sitting out Phoenix's first Summer League game on Monday with back spasms, Earl Clark displayed his full range of skills in his inaugural effort on Wednesday. He initiates the bulk of his offense along the perimeter, but he can do so many things from there to disarm the defense: a pretty touch pass into the post off a dish from his point guard, a catch-and-shoot, a dribble drive and pass-off that results in a hockey assist. He also showed his defensive flexibility, bothering guards and bigs alike.  
  • DeMar DeRozan is far more polished than advertised. He uses his quickness to build his game. As Mike Moreau said in David Thorpe's twitter thread, "Demar DeRozan really comes off the curl with speed, balance and elevation-very controlled. Will come off a decade's worth of pindowns."  He also rarely takes a bad shot -- uncommon among rookies and in Summer League, and particularly uncommon among rookies in Summer League. 
  • Jason Thompson was an entirely different player Wednesday. He claimed his spot down on the block, called for the ball, forced the action off the dribble, made hard back cuts when he was fronted, backed his guy in with force when he wasn't, and worked his tuchus off on the offensive glass. His totals: 31 points and 10 rebounds. 
  • Tyreke Evans didn't start for the Kings against the D-League Select team, and was very deferential when he checked in at the start of the second quarter and throughout the second half. He went 1-for-5 from the field, 3-for-4 from the line, with three assists in 23 minutes. Despite the off night, the change of speed on his dribble-drives was still ungodly.
  • Chase Budinger has a beautiful stride into his catch-and-shoot motion -- we know that -- but Wednesday night he also showed the athleticism to put it on the deck, weave through traffic, and finish strongly. He moved well without the ball to get open looks, and even absorbed a few bumps on defense to stay in front of his man, something he'll have to do this fall to stay in the Rockets' rotation.
  • Andray Blatche continues to be  one of the most confounding talents in the league. He flashed moments of sheer dominance Wednesday night with swift, whirling post moves off good recognition that made his defenders look silly. At other times, he tried to improvise and failed spectacularly. Blatche could be a top-shelf talent, but his preference for raw instinct over tactical strategy on a given play renders him inconsistent. He needs a plan. Still, between the potent face-up game at the top of the key, and the fancy footwork and explosiveness down low, it's hard to take your eyes off him. Let's see how he fares this season against NBA talent.
  • Dante Cunningham: NBA body, NBA aggressiveness, NBA defense ... NBA player? He didn't put up the most efficient line of the night (22 points on 23 possessions), but his physicality made the Rockets' defense work. He often chose to back his defender in with a dribble or two, then launch a mid-range jumper with good elevation. When he recognized there was something better, he'd build a head of steam and get to the rim. More than anything, he was out there with a purpose, moving with the offense, mindful of where Jerryd Bayless was at all times. 

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

It's more than a full hour before Saturday's first game at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. The only living beings in the building are some young Summer League staffers, journalists staking out laptop space on the coveted front row behind the basket ... and Raptors rookie DeMar DeRozan. Although native Angelenos are notoriously late to everything, that's not the case for DeRozan. He sits in mediation mode in the front row of the empty stands, tuning out to his mp3 player. The gym rat out of Southern Cal is where he enjoys being most -- in close proximity to a basketball court. 

TrueHoop caught up with him on Saturday afternoon:

Hedo Turkoglu and Shawn Marion -- a study in contrasts...and similarities. Did Nate Robinson have a breakout year? And how are Lakers fans processing the Ron Artest acquisition? 

Hedo TurkogluZarar Siddiqi of Raptors Republic: "Investing for 5 years in a 30 year old [Hedo] Turkoglu is about the same as investing for four years in a 31 year old [Shawn] Marion. I like the signing because he adds a whole new dimension to the team but at the same time feel that his best years could be behind him and that Orlando nabbed him when he was ripe for the picking, i.e. after a miserable year with the Spurs. Hopefully [Brian] Colangelo's not reaching on a has-been product like he did with Jermaine O'Neal. In this year's playoffs he showed a real knack for using his size to guard the pick 'n roll and defended Kobe Bryant and LeBron James well enough in stretches. He's no Marion when it comes to one-on-one defense but he's nothing to be scoffed at. Also, we finally got a guy that doesn't start choking his heart out in the clutch. Having the scoring touch of Turkoglu in the lineup might even allow the Raptors to test rookie DeMar DeRozan as a starter, much like the way the Magic did with Courtney Lee. With a big frontline of [Chris] Bosh-[Andrea] Bargnani-Turkoglu, an athletic shooting guard and a hopefully injury-free point guard in Calderon, the Raptors starting five looks respectable -- at least on paper."

Shawn MarionMax Handelman of Beyond Bowie: "The Matrix was a player that most fans would have probably salivated over during his days in Phoenix when he was one of the top undersized rebounders in the game, considered one of the better defenders in the game, and a player that didn't require the ball in his hands to be effective. Cut to today, when Shawn Marion, at just one year older than Hedo Turkoglu and with career averages in scoring, rebounding, steals, block shots, and field goal percentage vastly exceed that of Hedo Turkoglu, is looking at potentially getting cut by the Toronto Raptors to clear salary cap space to sign Turkoglu. I wonder how Marion feels today facing this reasonably humiliating prospect. It wasn't more than a few seasons ago that Marion was in the thick of the Western Conference contenders on Phoenix, earned a spot on Olympic and World Championship teams, and was considered a nightly matchup nightmare for most teams ... Which brings us back to the Trailblazers and conventional wisdom. The Blazers thought they needed Hedo Turkoglu. And they were willing to commit $10 million a year to him. But Hedo made it clear that he didn't need them. Now, Portland is sitting with this cap space, looking for a veteran difference maker who can both improve their offensive efficiency and defensive presence. Granted, Marion and Turkoglu are very different players. But Marion looks to be sitting right out there..."

Nate RobinsonMike Kurylo of Knickerblogger: "[Nate Robinson]'s per minute stats verify that 2009 was a career year. The Knicks' guard had career bests in per minute points, assists, rebounds, steals, fouls, and free throw attempts ... In [Mike] D'Antoni's offense Robinson seemingly has carte blanche to go to the hoop, and he does with vigor ... Watching him, it's amazing that the diminutive guard is able to score from inside so frequently and efficiently even with contact. On the court Robinson has matured a little bit. His propensity to commit meaningless fouls has decreased, and D'Antoni keeps him from arguing with officials. Nate still has his eccentric theatrics, for example this season's on the court Will Ferrell man-crush. It's commonly thought that Robinson's other big deficiency is his height. However teams didn't exploit Robinson in this manner, as I rarely saw other guards post him up. Instead his true Achilles' heel was revealed as he saw increased minutes this year: defending the pick and roll ... Still all-in-all Nate was one of the more productive Knicks in 2009, and is worthy of a contract extension. His potent scoring is an asset alone, but Robinson contributes with passing, steals, and rebounds as well."

THE FINAL WORD
Forum Blue & Gold: Lakers fans continue to grapple with Ron Artest's pending arrival.
Ball in Europe: Get Ready for 2009-10 Euroleague, Eurocup, and FIBA EuroChallenge!
Valley of the Suns: Getting inside Steve Nash's head.

(Photos by Chris Graythen, Ron Turenne, Chris McGrath/NBAE via Getty Images)

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

It's a telling sign that Joey Whelan's well-drawn profile of DeMar DeRozan at DraftExpress has a sidebar capsule of O.J. Mayo beside it.  DeRozan, USC's star recruit, will make his collegiate debut Saturday night against UC-Irvine.  USC Coach Tim Floyd will slot DeRozan into Mayo's slot at the SG, where the 6' 7" freshman will flash his freaky athleticism. 

You'll hear more about DeRozan once coverage of the 2009 Draft class ramps up in the coming weeks, but Whelan's comprehensive piece is a nice introduction:

What DeRozan gives is a package of talent and athleticism that may not be matched in this freshman class. Blessed with the size and explosiveness to be a dominant perimeter player in college, he also brings a developing skill set that can develop into a lethal threat at the NCAA level in time. DeRozan scored 29 points in USC's intrasquad scrimmage a couple of weeks ago, and while a flurry of dunks had the student body talking, it was the freshman's poise that impressed the coaches.

"He's a gamer, a guy who really steps up, [USC Assistant Coach Bob] Cantu says. "Demar is a scorer, yes, but he's such a team oriented guy. He doesn't force his shots, but gets them in the flow of the offense.

Courtesy of Ballislife.com

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