TrueHoop: Emeka Okafor

Bobcats fighting odds in Lottery

May, 28, 2012
5/28/12
10:19
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Wednesday's NBA Draft Lottery (ESPN, 8 ET) sees the Charlotte Bobcats with the best odds at acquiring the top selection (25.0 percent) after finishing 7-59 on the season. But the worst record hardly secures the top pick, as just last year the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Draft Lottery with only a 2.8 percent chance.

In addition, since the lottery moved to its present format in 1994, the team with (or tied for) the best odds has won just three of the 18 lotteries: Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 (Allen Iverson), Cavaliers in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando Magic in 2004 (Dwight Howard). By comparison, the teams with the third and fifth-best odds have won four times.

It is new territory for the Bobcats franchise. Since joining the NBA in 2004, Charlotte has never held the No. 1 overall pick, and the Bobcats highest selection was in 2004 when they picked Emeka Okafor No. 2 overall (the Bobcats originally had the No. 4 pick, but traded with the Los Angeles Clippers).

Ten current franchises have never made the No. 1 overall pick in an NBA draft since 1966 (start of common draft). Along with the Bobcats, the Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent chance) are the only other team in the 2012 lottery.

The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, have a 0.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, the third straight year they have held the worst odds. In addition, this is the fifth time in the last 12 years the Rockets have missed the playoffs despite having a winning record.

Looking ahead, since the start of the lottery in 1985, 13 of the 27 No. 1 overall picks have gone on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, including 2011 No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving. In addition, since 1990, four overall No. 1 picks went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and make the postseason (Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber and David Robinson).

Paul bests Bryant as Hornets take Game 1

April, 17, 2011
4/17/11
7:50
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The New Orleans Hornets provided the second stunner of the day upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers to take a 1-0 series lead.

According to Elias, this is was the 16th time a team coached by Phil Jackson opened their postseason at home, but the first time the team lost.

Chris Paul
Paul
The Hornets were able to pull off the victory thanks to point guard Chris Paul who scored 33 points while dishing out 14 assists.

Paul scored or assisted on 25 of the Hornets 34 field goals while he was on the court.

In the first half he picked up 10 of those assists, getting his teammates involved as the Hornets took an eight-point lead to halftime.

Then after the break Paul picked up the scoring load with 22 points in the final 24 minutes.

He created more opportunities for himself getting to the free throws 12 times in the second half alone after taking no free throws in the first.

It marked the fifth time in his playoff career that Paul notched 30 points and 10 assists, tied with Kobe Bryant for the most such games since 2008.

Speaking of Bryant he scored 34 points, his 79th career 30-point game in the playoffs, but it was Paul who controlled the game.

Combining points scored and points scored off assists, Paul created 63 points for the Hornets compared to just 46 by Bryant.

Kobe took 26 shots for the Lakers -- the rest of the starting five combined to take only 32.

The Lakers fell to 9-9 this season when he shoots 25 or more times.

The matchup to watch for Bryant the rest of this series will be when he’s guarded by former Laker Trevor Ariza.

Game footage showed, through the first three quarters Bryant torched Ariza scoring 20 points when guarded by him. However Ariza won the battle in the fourth holding Bryant scoreless when matched up against him.

While his brother Marc Gasol (24 points) helped the Memphis Grizzlies pull of the first upset of the day, Pau Gasol was held to only eight points, his fewest in a playoff game since joining the Lakers.

He only attempted nine shots despite playing 37 minutes.

With David West out for the season due to injury, the Lakers entered the series with a distinct frontcourt advantage.

However the tandem of Gasol and Andrew Bynum (13 points) were matched by Carl Landry (17) and Emeka Okafor (4) with 21 points, providing the Hornets with an unlikely boost.

Wednesday Bullets

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
11:17
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
By Marc Stein

Jason Hart was going to be traded Tuesday by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The only question was where: New Orleans or Phoenix.

As a story that appeared briefly on the Timberwolves' Web site earlier in the day confirmed, Minnesota was convinced that it had a deal with the New Orleans Hornets to send Hart to the Hornets in exchange for Devin Brown.

But Brown was able to block that deal from going through, much to the disappointment of the tax-conscious Hornets.

Sources with knowledge of the teams' discussions told ESPN.com that Brown and agent Mark Termini refused to reduce the amount on the 10-percent trade kicker in Brown's $1.1 million contract. Brown was not asked to waive the whole kicker, sources said, but the trade math on a deal with the Hornets would not work unless Brown consented to forfeiting some money.

Brown, though, would have been giving up a starting spot as well as the cash. He's started 23 of his 25 games this season and didn't know what sort of playing-time situation awaited in Minnesota.

The appeal for the Hornets was Hart's non-guaranteed contract. They planned to waive him immediately just as Phoenix is planning to release Hart on Wednesday after the Suns capitalized on the collapse of the Minnesota-New Orleans deal to send Alando Tucker, cash and a conditional second-round pick to the Wolves for Hart.

Meanwhile . . .

The big-picture takeaway from all of Tuesday's drama surrounding a seemingly minor deal is that it's yet another example of the pressure -- some would say desperation -- New Orleans is feeling to get its payroll beneath the $69.9 million luxury-tax threshold.

The wing positions have been major trouble spots for the Hornets all season, but Brown entered Tuesday’s play averaging 10.0 points in just 23.4 minutes per game while shooting a solid 41.1 percent from 3-point range.

Yet the Hornets are currently $3.3 million over the tax line and remain prepared to send away Brown in a deal that brings back no guaranteed money, as seen over the summer when New Orleans felt it had to essentially donate Rasual Butler to the Los Angeles Clippers because of the tax benefits.

There is a belief among some rival executives -- or perhaps it's more accurate to call it a hope -- that the Hornets will not be able to resist moving All-Star forward David West before the Feb. 18 trading deadline to ensure that they get comfortably under the tax threshold.

New Orleans' preference would obviously be moving out player(s) from its list of veterans with contracts that stretch beyond this season. That list presumably includes Emeka Okafor, Peja Stojakovic, James Posey, Mo Peterson, Darius Songaila and Julian Wright.

But a major shakeup with the Hornets would appear highly unlikely without involving West, since we know (as covered in this cyberspace last week) that they're not trading Chris Paul.

The High-Grade Sleepers

August, 17, 2009
8/17/09
10:06
AM ET
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

NBA training camps are still a few weeks away, but rosters around the league are gradually taking shape. Once David Lee, Allen Iverson and Ramon Sessions have jobs, we'll be ready to go.

The favorites in each conference are easy to spot -- they bear a striking resemblance to the teams that were playing on Memorial Day weekend. But which teams are lurking beneath the surface, ready to assume the role of improbable contender?

If they can avoid the injury bug, and the chemistry works just right, here are three teams that could emerge as success stories come spring:

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks


It's easy to forget just how dominant the Dallas Mavericks were when they took the floor against the eighth-seeded Warriors on a Sunday evening in April 2007. This was the last game of the postseason's opening weekend, a perfunctory item of business for the Mavs en route to a conference finals matchup against the Suns or the Spurs.
Dirk Nowitzki & Shawn Marion Can this pair inflict serious damage in a brutal Western Conference? (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Dallas was one year removed from an NBA Finals appearance, and had just piled up 67 wins in the regular season. Only five teams in NBA history had recorded more Ws in a single season. Dirk Nowitzki was the presumptive MVP (and would go on to win the award).

The Mavs' epic collapse in that first-round series against the Warriors has been well-documented, and over the next two seasons, Dallas would descend from its perch into the Western Conference's upper-middle class.

What's interesting about that falloff is how many of the elements of that Mavs team remain intact today -- to say nothing of the quality pieces that have been added since. 67 wins isn't ancient history; we're talking two seasons ago.

Dirk Nowitzki, at 31, is the same age as Kobe Bryant. While Nowitzki is unlikely to reproduce his 2006-07 exploits, he remains one of the league's best players. Jason Terry has been a model of consistency for Dallas and had arguably the most efficient season of his career as the Mavs' super sub in 2008-09. Josh Howard is only 29. When healthy, he's still one of the more flexible swingmen in the game and a lockdown defender. In 2006-07, J.J. Barea logged fewer than 200 minutes, but he's become a spark plug for the Mavs' quality second unit ever since.

With Jason Kidd settling nicely into the role of veteran facilitator (and surprisingly efficient shooter), the franchise doubled down on the bet that its solid core could maximize what's left of Nowitzki's prime. The Mavs landed Shawn Marion.

Like Howard, Marion is versatile, freakish, and mercurial. Defensively, he can stay in front of speedy point guards, bother face-up power forwards, chase spot-up shooters, and clean up on the boards. Offensively, Marion's downward trajectory the past season and a half began the moment he left Phoenix. Coincidence -- or evidence that his talents demand the care of a veteran, pass-first point guard?

When you consider those assets, then throw in sensible additions like Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries to bolster Erick Dampier on the block, defensive stopper Quinton Ross, and a pair of intriguing rookies, and the Mavs appear ... stacked.

There is no shortage of nightmarish scenarios by which Dallas' gamble can implode. Nowitzki, Kidd, Marion, Terry, and Dampier are all on the wrong side of 30. Howard is accustomed to missing about 15 games a year, and being less than 100 percent for long stretches. The Mavs' best offensive lineup (Kidd-Terry-Howard-Marion-Nowitzki) won't give them much interior defense, and the loss of Brandon Bass makes them a less energetic bunch.

But with Kidd at the point, and a roster of flexible guys who can each serve multiple functions on the floor, Dallas has the potential to develop into a grizzled, selfless squad with the kind of mental edge that just might have been the missing ingredient 28 months ago.


Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls


How much should we read into Chicago's classic seven-game series against Boston? Was the Bulls' gutsy performance a harbinger of things to come, or was it lightning in a bottle? Did they graduate into a team that knows how to scramble defenses with a legitimate pick-and-roll game, or were they just lucky to encounter a crippled Celtics team ill-suited to deal with their quickness and athleticism?

Those aren't the only imperative questions for Chicago. Even if we conclude that they came of age in April, is it fair to expect them to continue their progress without their top scorer, Ben Gordon, whom they lost to Detroit?

Short answer: Yes.

Although there will be nights when Gordon's fearlessness as a sniper will be missed, the Bulls might be better served long-term by the three-guard rotation of Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and John Salmons. With Gordon out of the picture, Rose can assert himself both as distributor and scorer. He's a transcendent young point guard, and one that should flourish now that his running mates in the backcourt are a little more pliable.
Derrick Rose Derrick Rose: Season Two
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Both Rose and Hinrich are expert ballhandlers -- and Hinrich is very comfortable off the ball as well. Salmons, along with Hinrich, is capable of defending all three perimeter positions, can score on pin-downs, slash to the rack, and fire from 3-point range (41.7 percent).

There are good reasons sleepers are sleepers, and the caveats for Chicago reside in its frontcourt. Start at small forward, where Luol Deng will be returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. He last played in a game on February 28. When 100 percent, Deng is a rangy, athletic force in transition and in the halfcourt, where his height and handle give him a big advantage over most defenders at the small forward. When Deng is on his game, he's also the correct answer to the question, "Who's going to make up for Ben Gordon's 20.7 points per game?"

There's a reason why any time a marquee big man comes on the market, he's rumored to be headed to Chicago. But desperate as the Bulls are for help on a threat on the block, we saw something interesting down the stretch last season. Rather than resign themselves to their lack of post scoring, the Bulls began to use Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas in pick and roll schemes, where their agility allowed them to beat their defenders to the rim. So long as Thomas resisted launching jump shots, it worked.

Noah doesn't have the jumper to be a high-post center (like backup Brad Miller), but his passing and mobility around the hoop might be enough in Chicago's offense. Thomas, of course, is the wild card. A composite of his finest moments last season would show him as a defensive ace, capable of creating opportunities for himself off the dribble, hitting a face-up jumper, and blocking any shot in medium proximity.

If that highlight reel can become a reality, if Deng can bounce back, and if Rose can continue his co
urse as one of the game's best young playmakers, the Bulls might turn their novelty act from last spring into a long-run production in 2010.


New Orleans Hornets

New Orleans Hornets


Here's one you can play by the pool:

Name the best starting power forward/center tandems in the NBA.

You could begin with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. After the Lakers' duo, there's only one other pair of starters who each recorded a player efficiency rating greater than 18:

David West and Emeka Okafor.
Chris Paul & Emeka Okafor For Emeka Okafor, playing alongside Chris Paul will be more pleasant than playing against him. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

After playing in relative obscurity with Charlotte over the past five seasons, Okafor moves to New Orleans, where he'll fill Tyson Chandler's spot at center for the Hornets. Chandler was a sentimental favorite in New Orleans -- both of the fan base in the Crescent City and his teammates. The Chris Paul to Tyson Chandler alley-oop was one of the NBA's signature highlight reel snippets.

Okafor may not be an elite center, but he's a very, very good big man and a more complete player than Chandler. For an extensive look at New Orleans' upgrade, take a look at John Hollinger's must-read comparison of Okafor and Chandler.

One of the most productive frontcourt tandems in the league and arguably the best point guard on the planet: That's a pretty nice place to start a season, don't you think?

Paul, West, and Okafor might not warrant a "Big Three" designation, but we can agree that they qualify as some sort of troika -- particularly in a scheme that's as dependent on the pick-and-roll as the Hornets offense.

Unfortunately for New Orleans, the NBA game demands that its best teams field a couple of guys on the wing who can create and/or defend -- preferably both -- and this is where the Hornets have depth problems.

As a catch-and-shoot artist, Peja Stojakovic is about as good as we've seen over the past decade, but he's coming off his worst season since the Clinton administration and is increasingly having trouble staying healthy. The Hornets signed James Posey a season ago to play the same role in New Orleans that he did in the Celtics' 2008 championship run -- defensive and 3-point specialist. Posey is good for 25 minutes per night in that capacity, but not dynamic enough to play much more. Morris Peterson was once thought to be a solution on the wing, but injury and age have slowed him. Those three guys -- each born in 1977 -- won't get them the 96 minutes per night they need from the off-guard and small forward.

The Hornets don't need All-Stars at the wings, but they must get solid production. Enter enigmatic, third-year forward Julian Wright.

Whereas the Hornets' aforementioned veterans have trouble doing much more offensively than spot up and shoot, Wright -- on his better nights -- can do everything but shoot. Though he was a menace defensively for the Hornets -- the team was about five points stingier with him on the court -- Wright took a step back last season offensively. The gifts are apparent, but there's still a lot of refinement needed, both mechanically and mentally.

The elasticity of the Hornets' win total isn't all on Wright and the health of the vets. If Summer League is any indication (that's a much longer conversation, isn't it?), New Orleans scored with its selection of guards Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton in the draft. And forward Ike Diogu was a savvy pickup on the cheap, as well.

One summer ago, the Hornets were being sized up as contenders after a spirited playoff run. This summer, much of the discussion surrounding the team has included the phrase "luxury tax threshold." While general manager Jeff Bower was attending to the spreadsheet, it's possible he constructed a team poised to surprise next season.

ESPN's John Hollinger (Insider) can't believe anyone would trade Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler, and he makes a convincing case. 

Both players consistently have been honorable mentions in my all-defense picks, but Okafor is the superior scorer. That might not be saying much -- both players are somewhat limited offensively -- but Okafor can score on post-ups occasionally and make short bank shots, while Chandler's range ends at the charge circle. Over the past three seasons, Okafor has averaged nearly five more points per 40 minutes -- that's big.

The health disparity between the two also has been mentioned, but look closer, and I'm not sure there's any difference. Okafor has averaged 66 games per season over the course of his career, Chandler 67. Chandler has a bad toe that already nuked one trade, but Okafor has a problematic back. Okafor has played 82 games each of the past two seasons, but over their careers, their injury histories show little separation. Age isn't an issue either -- they were born four days apart.

Hollinger theorizes that the Bobcats may have made the trade to reduce the team's total future financial obligation to ease a sale, or to appease Larry Brown's well-established jones for personnel turnover. In his view, it's certainly not about basketball.

The part of the analysis that's tough, however, is in quantifying the defense. Let's say we all agree that Chandler is a better defender than Okafor. How much better, and how do you judge that? Could it make up the difference, as it were, in their offensive skills? Might this still be an equal trade?

There are various different systems that attempt to measure such things, none of which is considered anything close to gospel. (Defense may win championships, but offense wins statistical assessments of individual players.)

Queen City Hoops' Brett Hainline can shed some light. He has handy charts. His painstaking process basically looks at what you'd expect opponents to do against Chandler, and then assesses what they actually did instead. The difference between those two, over time, is an approximation of a player's defensive value. This measure makes Chandler look good.

Hainline writes:

If you do not notice anything else, catch the net PER Chandler allowed: a 3.74 under expectations for his opponent. The best mark on the Bobcats this past season was Raymond Felton's 2.18, with Boris and Gerald both just over a 1. Emeka? 0.54. 

Hornets247's Ryan Schwan summarizes the findings by saying that "Chandler is an A+ defender and a C offensive player (offender?)" while "Okafor is a B- defender and a B offensive player."

By this analysis, the trade is a little more even. 

Basketballvalue's adjusted plus/minus, meanwhile, ranks Chandler as the second-most productive Hornet during last year's injury-plagued campaign. (Surprisingly, much of that is because the Hornets were somehow much better offensively when he was on the floor.) The same measures are slightly less friendly to Emeka Okafor.

A confession: Isn't there a little something else hanging out there, too? When I consider this trade, I can try to be even-handed and analytical, but what I have to fight is the reality that I have seen Chandler play a key role for an elite team -- the Hornets in the playoffs two years ago -- but I have never seen anything like that from Okafor in the NBA.

It's not fair, but that reality gives Okafor a little discount he might not deserve. Perhaps Chris Paul can help Okafor prove me wrong, but this trade feels pretty even to me.

LeBron James used to be the superstar doing his best with a marginal supporting cast -- now that man is Dwyane Wade.  Meanwhile, the Thunder's supporting cast came up big in Dallas -- but the Lakers' laid an egg in Phoenix. The TrueHoop Network casts a wide net over the NBA

LeBron James

John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "This might have been my favorite LeBron game of the year. With real stakes on the line playing a real team, LeBron scored a pretty 42 with a True Shooting of 80%. And the perimeter game! Absolutely thrilling. I'd much rather see that than what he showed against Milwaukee. There was absolutely zero heat-checking involved in the making of those threes. The breakdown:

2 in the open court on broken plays in the up-and-down playground basketball stretch of the first quarter.

2 on a move where he got space on the perimeter, took one hard dribble forward and went straight up into a shot with his momentum taking him towards the basket.

1 on a pick-and-pop with Mo Williams during crunch-time

1 on a back-tap that came right to him after he ran the same play with Williams, but Williams elected to shoot. Also during crunch-time.

The new stroke he's been trying to get himself into seemed in full effect tonight -- he didn't fade, he kept the elbow in and the wrist extended, and he kept his lower body quiet. The ultimate goal is to have perimeter moves from 15-18 or behind a pick-and-roll that can get clean, repeatable looks from high-efficiency spots on the perimeter. If that isn't there, working off the ball and being patient for perimeter looks like LeBron was tonight is infinitely preferable to indiscriminately jacking up bombs off the bounce to show everyone you can."

Dwyane WadeMatt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "Wade has taken this ragtag team, filled with rookies (Beasley and Chalmers), fringe players (Joel Anthony, Daequan Cook), and veterans considered past their prime (Jermaine O'Neal, Udonis Haslem) and have turned them into a cohesive unit. That they were overwhelmed tonight was not about a fundamental flaw, a lack of resolve, or a weakness borne from their chemistry. They were simply overrun by numbers...

Wade...was a leader of men, and a force of nature all at once. No one goes from 0 to 100 on the steal as fast as Wade. Not Ellis, not Barbosa, no one...

He won't clear 50 wins. But he's brought this team from the ashes, answered his critics, has them in line for the playoffs, some quality wins, and his numbers are off the charts. Points, rebounds, assists, steals, and even blocks. He's done more with less, and he's doing it by setting crowds on fire and leading a young team.

I'm starting to believe Dwyane Wade may really be the 2008-2009 MVP."

Russell WestbrookRoyce Young of Daily Thunder: "Before the game, I worried that this might be a borefest seeing as OKC only had one part of its three-part fun team. Russell is a joy to watch, but without KD and Uncle Jeff, I wondered if it would be any fun watching Nick Collison and Kyle Weaver grind out possessions. And the funny thing about it is, this was probably the most enjoyable game of the entire year from a pure basketball standpoint. For four quarters there was awesome ball movement. For four quarters there was tight, no-room, suffocating defense. For four quarters, five guys (on one team) worked together as one. It was beautiful. Not to take anything away from Jeff Green and KD, because give me them back tomorrow please, but what an effort by the Thunder scraps -- and I mean that in the nicest way possible."

THE FINAL WORD
Queen City Hoops: More Brett Hainline wizardry -- a study of Emeka Okafor's defensive efficiency, broken down by the height of his opponent.
Roundball Mining Company: A close look at the events surrounding 'Melo's suspension.
Forum Blue & Gold: Is the Lakers' bench a cause for concern? 

(Photos by Victor Baldizon, Victor Baldizon, Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Had a chance to trade emails with Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus during the live blog of the All-Star Game. Kevin rightfully pointed out that naming Mo Williams to replace Chris Bosh was the primary reason the East got mauled inside. 

The choice of Williams meant the East entered the game with only two legitimate bigs -- Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both of whom were starters.  As a result, Rashard Lewis was forced to assume the center spot for long stretches of the game.  Lewis has always been a bit challenged defending the post at the PF position, and he certainly doesn't have the strength or the ability to absorb a beating against opposing 5s.  But that's exactly what he was charged with doing as the backup center on the Eastern squad, and the results were disastrous for the East.

Points in the Paint?  West 96, East 58.

Glass? West 51, East 38. 

Shaquille O'Neal: 17 points, 8-9 FGs in 11 minutes.  

Was Cleveland's whining a contributing factor in the league's choice of Mo Williams over, say, Emeka Okafor?  Perhaps, though you have to assume that the opportunity to showcase a young guard who'll likely be playing past Memorial Day was a more attractive alternative for the league than picking Okafor simply because of matchup issues, to say nothing of Mike Brown's position as Eastern head coach.  Still, it would be interesting to know how much the shamockery campaign factored into the decision, and if the East could've kept it closer with another big man to bang with Shaq, Gasol, and company. 

Friday Bullets

January, 2, 2009
1/02/09
5:51
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • Kurt from Forum Blue & Gold will have his eye on Jazz rookie Kosta Koufos during tonight's Lakers-Jazz game.  Kurt cites David Thorpe's description of Koufos' arsenal: "Want to get an idea of how diversified Koufos' offensive game is? Here's how he scored his buckets in the Jazz's big win over Dallas: Offensive-rebound putback, layup off a dive in low-high action, step-through off a loose ball, race to the rim from the left-hand side, left-hand dribble and right-hand layup over Erick Dampier, rim-to-rim sprint and dunk, pick-and-roll left-hand finish, dive-to-the-rim dunk in low-high action, right-hand hook (and 1!) off a pick-and-roll."
  • In response to Bill Simmons' claim that Steve Nash's numbers were inflated under Mike D'Antoni, Michael Schwartz from Valley of the Suns counters: "[W]hy is Nash averaging just 14.8 ppg and 8.3 apg this season after his stellar four-year run under D'Antoni? Simmons makes the point that those numbers are in line with what Nash averaged in his final season in Dallas. And although they're down from what he's done in Phoenix, who can complain about the 34-year-old Nash's numbers being in line with his 29-year-old self? Sure, I'd attribute some of the decrease to Nash getting up there in age and fighting injury issues such as the back spasms that have kept him out of most of the past two games. But also the Suns just don't need him to be the same kind of point guard he was under D'Antoni. Nash used to be the engine that made the system go, a vital cog that would result in the entire system blowing when he's not around. Now he's more of a propeller, as the Suns still need him to run their best, but they have a Diesel to carry the load if need be."
  • Sorting through his mailbag, Dave D'Alessandro defends Nets coach Lawrence Frank against the pitchfork people in New Jersey: "[I]t's pretty clear that this coach has a) devised a pretty potent offense for the talent they've assembled; b) inspired terrific starts from his two best players; c) is right on schedule in developing one of their rookies into a top-10 center; and d) used the role players as well as anyone could (possible exception: Najera), given their glaring limitations. Maybe he's made mistakes, but that's just a second-guess - he had seven new guys he is still learning about. If they get out of this month with anything close to a .500 record, he should be a COY candidate."
  • Aron Phillips at Dime wonders, "Will there ever be another team with so many NBA coaches" produced from its ranks as the 1985-86 Boston Celtics? 
  • The new-look Bobcats are 4-5 since the big trade.  Queen City Hoops says that Boris Diaw deserves some of the credit, but that much of the progress can be chalked up to the upward trajectory of Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace since the deal: "Since Boris' arrival, Gerald has been unreal - 20.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks...With Boris around, Okafor has gone off to the tune of 17.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game."
  • Raja Bell will be out of action again tonight.  Rufus on Fire doesn't like Larry Brown's depth chart behind Bell: "Matt Carroll, inexplicably, gets another start in Raja Bell's absence. Morrison's a wreck right now, Carroll's just as bad, and starting two point guards is a recipe for rejuvenating Michael Redd. How badly does Shannon Brown have to practice before Larry Brown realizes he has a perfectly capable stopgap solution already on the roster?"
  • Micah Hart has some New Years resolutions for the Atlanta Hawks.  Compensating for Mike Bibby's defense at the point is among them: "One of the main reasons New Jersey swept the Hawks back in November was the performance of Nets' PG Devin Harris, who used his quickness to get into the lane as he torched Atlanta for 63 points in two games. Other quick point guards have done very well against the Hawks also, and defending their penetration has really been the biggest achilles heel for the Hawks D. We all know Mike Bibby won't be making any All-Defensive teams anytime soon, but knowing his shortcomings on the defensive end...the Hawks are going to have to figure out other ways of clogging the lane to keep the Harrises and Roses of the world from forming a lay-up line."
  • Kelly Dwyer notes that it's a great night for League Pass subscribers, because every team in the NBA is in action.  Even lonely ol' Channel 764 will have a broadcast.
  • On the docket is a Magic-Heat contest.  Third Quarter Collapse isn't buying that "it's just another game": "Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has said countless times that playing the Miami Heat is just another game .. but everyone knows, including the Magic players, that he delights in beating his former team. "
  • Peter Robert Casey's examination of the descriptive verbs highlighting each one of NJIT basketball's 40 losses will remind Infinite Jest fans of Jim Troeltsch's hijinks as the in-house sportscaster at Enfield Tennis Academy: " I decided to riffle through the archives see exactly how the SID went about this challenge over the last, say, 40 losses. After being topped, toppled, carried, stopped, propelled, held off, beaten, edged, thwarted, pulled away, upended, defeated, chilled, worn down, lifted, fallen, and lost multiple times, it doesn't surprise me that Casciano had to take a T.O. for health reasons."

The Elephant in the Room

December, 14, 2007
12/14/07
2:24
PM ET

During the shootaround, the Bobcat coaches kept harping on one particular theme: you big men -- do not front the post. As in, stay between your man and the basket.

In the scramble to blitz, recover, and rotate, it is a very natural thing for a player to deny the ball in the post for an instant or two. Everybody tried it at one time or another: Emeka Okafor, Walter Herrmann, Primoz Brezec. Every time it happened even a little the coaches stopped play. Nope nope nope. They did not want that. Anything but that.

Why?

No one spelled it out too clearly, but it is clear to all: Dwight freaking Howard.

Any time there's an ounce of daylight between Dwight Howard and the hoop, Carlos Arroyo, Hedo Turkoglu, or Jameer Nelson will be lobbing that ball up there, and Dwight Howard will be embarrassing everybody on SportsCenter.

Play after play, the teaching point was the same. And while the coaches had clearly not wanted to get everyone too wound up about one player -- you don't want to psych out your own team -- Howard was looming large all the same.

After a while, Coach Vincent just had to address it. "Let's not spend all the time thinking Dwight Howard is something that's going to kill us on the inside," he said, naming the thing everyone seemed to be worried about. "Just play him solid."

Okafor didn't seem to like the idea of just having to stand between Howard and the basket all night, either. "You're just going to have to move him out as far as you can," said the coach.

And if he catches it in the post? "Everyone is going to have suck in," said assistant coach Paul Mokeski, meaning there would need to be help nearby on all sides.

If that doesn't work? Hey, at least you get to be on SportsCenter.

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