TrueHoop: Eric Gordon

Wednesday Bullets

December, 26, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • From Pablo S. Torre's ESPN The Magazine feature on Kyrie Irving, what every eager young basketball player should have in the drawers of his nightstand: pork rinds and Sour Patch Kids.
  • At BallerBall, an expanded visual of Russell Westbrook's legs at a 105-degree angle as he launched Oklahoma City's final field goal attempt -- the most controversial shot of Christmas.
  • Royce Young of Daily Thunder tackles the prickly question of Kendrick Perkins' usefulness and wonders why Kevin Martin and not Thabo Sefolosha was on the floor for a crucial defensive possession in the game's closing seconds that resulted in an easy bucket for Chris Bosh.
  • A video roundup of the notable Christmas Day commercial spots featuring big-name NBA players.
  • How many minutes should an NBA coach play a raw, young player? That's one of the most contentious debates in the NBA, and it's one that can drive a wedge between a head coach and management, a fan base and its team, young guys and oldsters in a locker room. Andre Drummond has put up solid numbers per minute in Detroit, but he's not seeing all that many minutes.
  • Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting implores Raymond Felton, who has only seven functional fingers, to take a night off: "At last, we may have found the injury threshold at which Raymond achieves self awareness. Yes, Ray. Take the night off. Take a couple if you have to. I don't know why having sore, lifeless hands emboldens Felton to attempt MORE feats of dexterity (now attempting 19 shots per game in December after 14.2 per game in November), but it's really not helping matters."
  • Andrew Han of ClipperBlog factored the decision-making judgment of Caron Butler: "Midway through the third quarter, on a secondary break, Caron Butler pulled up for a wide-open 3-pointer. Open as far as the eye can see. So open, in fact, that when he elevated, Iguodala (who was 10 feet away) simply turned around to seek out the impending rebound. But Butler didn’t shoot it. He dished it to an equally wide-open Willie Green for a corner-3, who promptly drained it. I mention it because I wondered why Butler passed on his shot; he’s been an effective 3-point shooter this season. And so I checked the stats: Caron Butler: 37.8% 3PT% from above-the-break-3. Willie Green: 48.3% 3PT% from the corner-3. They were similarly wide open, but Butler understood that the corner-3 is a higher percentage shot, and a much higher one for Willie Green. You play the hand you’re dealt. And while, to others, it seems like you’re on a hot streak, it’s all about counting the odds."
  • Jamal Crawford with a move Billy Crystal calls "Shabbat Shalom" ... even on a Tuesday night.
  • Keith Smart cast his lot with DeMarcus Cousins last season, a gambit that's become a lot more dicey for the Kings' head coach in his second season with the organization.
  • Warriors rookie Draymond Green can't shoot, lacks a natural position even by the more fluid definitions of today's NBA and is putting up some ugly numbers. So how come the Warriors are inordinately better when he's on the floor?
  • Something to contemplate as the Hornets get ready for the return of Eric Gordon -- he's a sturdy, efficient defender.
  • The Washington Wizards don't do much of anything right, but as Jordan Khan of Bullets Forever illustrates, they sort of know how to press.
  • Kendall Marshall celebrates the miracle of touchpads.

Let 'em walk

December, 19, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
The unknown factors in the Chris Paul trade saga remain a mystery. Smart people are still asking the right questions, but we still don't know what governed the decision to veto a three-way trade between the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets, then sign off on a package from the Clippers.

We don't know to what extent that first deal was agreed upon by front office principals in New Orleans, Houston and Los Angeles. We don't know whether the subsequent rejection of that trade for "basketball reasons" was just that -- a statement about the contents of the package, or whether the league had ulterior motives like throwing a bone to a segment of owners or listening to the wishes of a potential buyer.

What few have asked is why the Hornets felt the dire need to trade Chris Paul in the first place, a question Mavericks owner Mark Cuban addressed over the weekend in an interview with TMZ:
[W]e went through a long lockout, and one of the things we were trying to gain was that small-market teams could have confidence they could keep their star players ... There would be enough financial incentives for them to stay with the incumbent team. And within two weeks of the new collective bargaining agreement, the smallest-market team, which is owned by the NBA, threw up their hands and said, ‘We can’t keep our star player.’ So it’s not about Chris Paul. It’s more about the fact that the NBA kind of gave up on the CBA before giving it a chance. And to me, that made them kind of hypocritical -- or very hypocritical -- which didn’t sit too well with me...

... We had a lockout. What was the purpose of the lockout? One of the goals of the lockout was to have more parity. With free agency, players are always allowed to choose wherever they want to go, but they have to make a decision. Do they want to stay with their existing teams and make the most money, or leave on their own terms to wherever they want to go with cap room and take less money? My personal belief is 90 percent of the time players are going to take the greater money, which meant that Chris Paul could've, would've -- or any star player could've, would've -- wanted to stay in the smaller market. And you’ve got other teams that are making that conscious decision to stick it out like Orlando is doing. But of all the teams not sticking it out, you would think the team owned by the NBA and run by the commissioner would be the first to stick it out, and they weren’t. And to me, it’s hypocritical, and threw a lot of us under the bus.

Cuban argues that a team owned by the NBA should've been faithful to the spirit of a collective bargaining agreement that makes superstars choose between destination and treasure. Had Chris Paul opted out of the final year of his contract with New Orleans and chosen the Lakers, then so be it. Paul would've had to settle for only $75.8 million over four seasons rather than the $100.2 million over five seasons he could've earned only with the Hornets.

Critics of Cuban's argument would say that an unwillingness to trade Paul could mean the Hornets would be stuck with nothing in return.

But is nothing really so bad?

Wasn't the initial proposal -- which would've netted the Hornets Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom and Goran Dragic -- rejected because it would've made the Hornets too competitive? The Hornets would've been consigned to the NBA's middle class, not competitive enough to win anything meaningful, but not bad enough to secure a future superstar with a high draft pick. While treading water, the Hornets would be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars, even if those contracts are of relatively fair value, which they are.

In contrast, the Clippers delivered a likely Top 10 pick, along with an expiring deal for an All-Star center, a prolific young scorer and a forward prospect. Nevermind that the center won't be around next season, the scorer might not want to stick around and the prospect may or may not amount to anything. In fact, for teams in rebuilding mode, success presents serious problems. As Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote last week at HoopSpeak, why pay to be competitive if you can tank for less?
Much of the appeal in this Clippers-Hornets trade is derived from how it makes the Hornets immediately, well, bad ... Obviously, Eric Gordon is a key get, but few observers believe he’ll take New Orleans to next year’s playoffs. And that’s the point. The Hornets will receive a high lottery selection to pair with Minnesota’s 2011 draft pick. A gutted team plus lotto hope makes for a more enticing situation than the playoff contention troika of Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, and Kevin Martin.

By shepherding this particular trade through, the commissioner is tacitly–maybe even overtly–singing a grand, bellowing ode to the glories of tanking. And he is quite correct, because ping pong balls determine so much.

This is why Orlando shouldn't worry too much about getting nothing in return for Howard -- and why New Orleans should flip Eric Gordon as soon as possible, lest he help them win 28 games and finish with the No. 9 or 10 pick.

Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri deserves praise for engineering a strong deal when Carmelo Anthony declared he wanted out of Denver, but pull back for a second and consider what the future looks like for the Nuggets. Those nice assets accumulated in Anthony trade should, along with Nene, sentence the Nuggets to respectability. The team will be fun, likeable and utterly irrelevant on May 25, if not sooner. While the dregs of the league scout all the coveted incoming big men at the top of the draft board, Denver will troll the middle ranks of the first round.

It will be years before we can fairly judge whether the Nuggets would've been better off letting Anthony leave "for nothing," but if your goal is June basketball in Denver at the earliest possible moment, Top 5 picks and swaths of cap space for the foreseeable future might be preferable to Danilo Gallinari and a highly-compensated Nene, who is approaching 30. Nuggets fans won't have to cover their eyes, but they can probably forget about seeing tickets with holograms on them anytime soon.

When we learned last week of a Howard trade proposal that had Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, Jordan Farmar and a pick to Orlando, the early takeaway was that Orlando was getting the shaft. But the problem for Orlando wasn't that the deal was bad -- it's that it wasn't bad enough! The NBA is governed by a system that reserves its greatest rewards for abject failure, but tells teams striving to put a competitive product on the floor that it's wasting its time.

Think about the Houston Rockets for a second. While they had $40 million of annual salary tied up in two injured superstars, they continued to make wily deals, like offloading Rafer Alston for the Grizzlies' backup point guard, and stealing an Argentinian power forward from the Spurs for Vassilis Spanoulis. Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola have allowed the Rockets to remain competitive on a nightly basis -- and forever relegated to the middle of the first round of the NBA draft, where superstars are a once in a generation occurrence.

What do you do if you're the Rockets or the Hawks and have the talent in place to hang around the 45-win mark for the foreseeable future? Are you deluding yourself in a system with screwy disincentives and maddening inefficiencies? Are you better off conducting a fire sale and putting a sign at the arena gate apologizing for the mess while you remodel?

Mark Cuban is half right-half wrong. If the Hornets and/or the NBA made a mistake by dealing away Chris Paul, it isn't because they betrayed any tacit promise they owed to small-market owners (You want a promise? Get it in the form of a hard cap). It's because they acquired a player who has the potential to win basketball games and cost them lots of money next summer, two things that will work in opposition to getting atop the NBA draft board.

Orlando now finds itself in a similar situation with Howard. The two most desirable outcomes for the Magic are (1) figuring out how to retain Howard for the long term (2) putting themselves in the same position they were when they drafted Howard in 2004 -- 40 games under .500.

Offering him the most years at the most money is the only way to achieve No. 1. "Getting nothing in return for Howard" is the easiest way to get to No. 2.

But trading Howard for productive players is the sure-fire way to thwart both plans.

Monday Bullets

December, 19, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • Classmates of Kim Jong Il's son, Kim Jong-un, testify that the presumed successor in North Korea wasn't all that interested in politics when he was at school in Switzerland. What really got him going was basketball. "He worshipped basketball players in the NBA. A friend who visited his apartment at #10, Kirchstrasse, Liebefeld, recalls that Kim had a room filled with NBA-memorabilia. 'He proudly showed off photographs of himself standing with Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. It is unclear where the pictures were taken. On at least one occasion, a car from the North Korean Embassy drove Pak Un to Paris to watch an NBA exhibition game,' the [Washington Post] said. In class, Pak Un was generally shy and awkward with girls, but he became a different person on basketball court, according to his classmates. 'A fiercely competitive player,' said classmate Nikola Kovacevic. 'He was very explosive. He could make things happen. He was the playmaker.'"
  • Michael Pina of Red94 composes a stellar post on the psyche of trade bait. There are those, like Kevin Martin and Chauncey Billups, who take it a little personally. Others, like Lamar Odom, are driven to tears. Then there are Luis Scola, Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol, who are able to convey detachment -- at least publicly.
  • The Heat have pledged to switch up their offense this season by incorporating more fast-break attacks and putting more of a premium on spacing. Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak exchanges with a reader who explains what "the Invert" offense in lacrosse can teach us about defending the Heat.
  • Charlie Widdoes of ClipperBlog feels the Clippers gave up too much for Chris Paul, and that staying the course with Eric Gordon and the salary flexibility that would've come with Chris Kaman's expiring contract was the right call.
  • Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili on the composition of the reigning champions in Dallas: "So where does that leave you? A short stint with a lineup where Lamar Odom is the primary ballhandler, employing Dirk and Marion as roll men with Delonte and Carter in the wings if the play goes sour? Does the team manage a point-by-committee sort of strategy? And who defends what? Dirk’s defense has gotten better over the years, but at this point Odom is essentially the best defensive talent in the Mavs’ big rotation. Do you cross-match Odom on the opposing center and hope he can draw them out of the paint? Do you keep Dirk at center and live with the terrifying defensive results? I really don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone else does either. And that’s part of what makes this Mavs team so interesting."
  • Kris Humphries chalks up impressive numbers on the Wins Produced metric, prompting Andres Alvarez of Wages of Win to ask why the power forward remains unsigned.
  • When Boris Diaw was growing up in France, his mom -- a former player -- ordered him not to join the throng of kids who'd storm the scorebook immediately after the game to tally their point totals.
  • Watching Al Jefferson's deliberate but effective post game drives Zach Harper to thumbing through periodicals during live play, but Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams are shiny!
  • The amnesty deadline passed and Rashard Lewis is still a Wizard. Lewis is setting up house in Washington, where his daughter has enrolled at nearby Sidwell Friends, where the Obama girls attend school.
  • Who would you rather be -- the Lakers or the Clippers?
  • Kevin Durant's fans will scour North America for his backpack like it's an afikoman.

Eric Gordon's rush-hour commute

December, 15, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Evan Gole/NBAE/Getty Images
While Chris Paul named his landing spot, Eric Gordon went along for the ride.

At practice one afternoon during Eric Gordon's rookie season, I repeated something he had said in a postgame interview the previous night to a member of the Clippers coaching staff.

"Eric spoke?"

It wasn't said cruelly or with any sort of ridicule. The staff loved the young guard from Indianapolis, who had just turned 20. There were guards with better ball-handling skills on the draft board at No. 6 in 2008, like Jerryd Bayless and D.J. Augustin, but the Clippers liked Gordon's sturdiness. They knew he was introverted, but didn't realize just how reserved he was. Mike Dunleavy repeatedly begged Gordon, who loves to absorb contact off the dribble, to be more expressive with referees so he could earn more trips to the line.

Gordon will never win the Sam Cassell Award for gregariousness and quotability, but he gradually came out of his shell both on and off the court. He became more communicative with the coaching staff, teammates and the media. As defenders took notice of his quick-trigger, shot-put release and closed out on him more promptly, Gordon became even more confident driving to the rim. Gordon is a bowling ball, fearless in traffic, and he's going to score a ton of points as the Hornets' No. 1 option this season.

Maybe it's his round face or sullen voice or midwestern manner, but Gordon still seems to convey a little trace of sadness (though often that's just shyness disguised). There are certain players in an NBA locker room who feed off endorphins found only in the brains of pro athletes or rock stars in their 20s. Gordon isn't one of those guys. He works diligently, but quietly.

On Wednesday when Gordon found out he'd been dealt to the Hornets, he was on a bus with teammates Ryan Gomes, Eric Bledsoe and Willie Warren, Clippers assistant coaches Dean Demopolous and Howard Eisley, four season ticket holders and the Clippers Spirit dance team, Scott Howard-Cooper of tweeted.

After visiting patients and signing autographs at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, the group hopped back onto the bus and Gordon sat in the back with his teammates. A few minutes after leaving the hospital en route to a second stop in downtown Los Angeles, the mood quickly shifted.

"We found out about five minutes into the drive from the hospital to downtown," Ricky Chu, a 20-year season ticket holder who was on the bus. "We saw on Twitter that the trade went through. Everyone was just looking at their phones and was, like, 'Wow!' Right when we looked up, he got a phone call and you could just tell that's what it was about because you could see his face go really sad. There was no anger about it, but you could tell he was really bummed."

Gordon got off the phone just before the bus arrived at the second stop, an office building that's home to a company that has season tickets to the Clippers. He had a quick, quiet conversation with his teammates in the back. Then the bus pulled into the second location, and everyone rose to get off.

"Everybody knew, so everyone started looking back at him. And he was trying not to look up at everybody, because I'm pretty sure he knew that everybody else knew," Chu said. "And it was really awkward because this was a thing we went to to promote the Clippers, to get everyone excited. One minute, he's a part of it. Then all of the sudden in the middle of the event, he finds out he's getting traded."

Demopolous and Gordon lingered behind for a moment, while everyone else gathered outside the bus. Clippers staffers asked the season-ticket holders not to mention the trade to Gordon, and they obliged. When the group reached the office on an upper floor, Gordon fulfilled his final duties as a Los Angeles Clipper with poise.

"We went inside and [Gordon] put on a happy face," Chu said. "He was still going through the office, signing autographs for people. Everyone is there loves him. He smiled, took pictures with them even though he just got traded."

Later Gordon confided to ESPNLosAngeles that he was surprised by the trade:
People in the organization were telling me I was going to probably stay here, stick around ... But you don't know who to trust or follow, give you a lead on anything. I'm just going to take it for how it is. It is kind of tough to swallow, but I'm just a basketball player. I'm not going to have any hard feelings about it.

On Wednesday, an NBA superstar had a decisive voice in where he'd spend the next two years of his professional life. Another, slightly less decorated player got a phone call in a rush-hour bus telling him to pack his bags.

Leverage, Chris Paul and the Clippers

December, 13, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Assembling a Chris Paul-Blake Griffin duo isn't easy.

After wrapping up a call with Chauncey Billups on Monday night, Clippers general manager Neil Olshey got a chance to slip out of the team’s training facility and head home for the first time in a couple of days. At his Monday afternoon media availability, Olshey was sporting stubble and the white Clippers polo shirt he'd been wearing during the all-nighter he pulled on Sunday night in the Chris Paul talks.

While all eyes were on the state of negotiations on Monday, the Clippers filled out the league's automated amnesty form and filled in $2,000,032 in the amount field for the rights to Billups. (Why 32? That's Blake Griffin's jersey number.) While the Clippers haggled with the NBA over a deal for Paul, they cleverly exploited one of the league's newest instruments -- the amnesty bidding process -- to give themselves a little more leverage in negotiations.

The addition of Billups gives the Clippers insurance at the point guard position, where they currently employ Mo Williams (young backup Bledsoe is recovering from surgery). And if somehow a deal for Paul came together, then they could slide Billups over to the off-guard slot where he'd spot up for kickouts -- or just use him off the bench as a microwave.

Leverage has been a funny thing in the Paul negotiations. For a while, we thought Paul had all the leverage. He's the guy who can opt out of his contract in 29 weeks. When he named the Lakers as his preferred destination, that seemed to give Mitch Kupchak the upper hand. Once the league rejected the proposal submitted by the Lakers, Rockets and Hornets, the Clippers stepped in to fill the vacuum. The Hornets wanted youth, valuable picks and expiring deals, and the Clippers had all the above -- along with a promise from Paul that he'd opt in for 2012-13. Now the Clippers had leverage. Where else could the Hornets and/or the NBA possibly find that kind of package? The league wouldn't consider allowing Paul to walk for nothing, would it?

Even with a dwindling field of trading partners, the Hornets demanded all five of the Clippers' prime trading chips -- Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman (whose deal expires at the end of the season), Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-round draft pick. The Clippers rebuffed that offer, knowing they won't be outbid for Paul.

In the meantime, nobody was crying at the Clippers' facility at Tuesday's media day. Gordon has never been uber-gregarious, but he pleasantly brushed off questions about having his name batted around in trade talk. Bledsoe and Aminu followed suit. With Billups on the way and a team they feel is playoff ready, the Clippers will continue to listen but, with a little more leverage, are well aware that if the offer was there yesterday, then it will be there tomorrow.

But leverage is designed to get the opposing party to come back with a more lenient offer, and there's little evidence the Hornets have any intention of settling for anything less than the moon, even if Paul opts out of his contract on June 30, 2012. The Clippers are unlikely to lose Paul before the trading deadline to another NBA team, but they could place second to None of the Above.

So if you're the Clippers, why not roll the dice, even if it means parting with all five trade assets?

Kaman isn't coming back anyway. Aminu has some redeeming qualities as a player, but doesn't project to be an elite forward. Bledsoe is a lightning-quick point guard with potential, but he's no Chris Paul.

You can even make an argument for trading both of the Clippers' most prized possessions. The Minnesota pick should be high, but the draft produces few guarantees. If the Timberwolves pick becomes a very decent, but unexceptional, player, do you want to be the team that passed on Paul to preserve the rights to a Jeff Green, Tyrus Thomas or Mike Conley Jr.?

As for Gordon, he might be unaffordable after a Paul acquisition. The Clippers will owe $38.5 million to Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Mo Williams and Ryan Gomes in 2012-13. Paul will require a max contract. Considering the swaths of cap space around the league, it's a fair bet Gordon will too if he has another standout season. And that's before you extend Blake Griffin -- which is really the whole point of all this if you're the Clippers.

Two seasons worth of Chris Paul could be the salve that cures a generation of affliction for the Clippers. Pairing Paul with Griffin for a preseason slate might be enough to talk the pair into setting up shop for the long term -- but the risks are enormous. Getting Chris Paul and keeping Chris Paul are two entirely different tasks.

No matter how loudly Paul shouts he wants to be a Clipper for life -- and he hasn't made any promise of the kind -- what if the knee acts up? Or what if the Clippers sniff a couple of Western Conference semifinals but, with seriously depleted depth, never play past Memorial Day? What if either (or both) Griffin or Paul decides he'd prefer to play elsewhere in 2013-14? Olshey would have to play the role of Dell Demps, trying to extract as much for his superstars as possible with a gun pointed to his head and an irascible owner. When the circus was over, the Clippers would be without Paul, Griffin, Gordon, Bledsoe and Aminu. You can almost hear the barbs, "Leave it to the Clippers to burn through a decade of assets, two superstars and somehow be left with nothing!"

The most important calculus through which the Clippers are factoring their decisions is the probability that Griffin will sign an extension with the team. The NBA's competitive landscape is governed by superstars. The Clippers have one in hand, and keeping him is essential. The $43 million they've committed to Jordan -- Griffin's best friend on the team -- might well be worth every penny if it's a decisive factor in keeping Griffin in a Clippers uniform. The Butler acquisition wasn't a good value play, but spending big money for an upgrade at the team's weakest position sent a signal Griffin's way.

Backing up the truck for Chris Paul might be the Clippers' ultimate statement that they're serious about retaining Griffin for a lifetime. If Griffin wanted Paul above everything else -- so much so that No. 32 would sign a long-term extension tomorrow if Paul arrived on the first flight -- one suspects the Clippers might do it.

But right now, the Clippers have made it clear that nobody is forcing their hand. They won't be rushed by the Hornets' hefty demands or peculiar process. The Clippers have waited a lifetime and they're prepared to wait a little longer.

The Clippers reverse course

December, 8, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
After Blake Griffin landed in the Los Angeles Clippers' lap in the summer of 2009 after a disastrous 19-63 season, the organization gradually committed itself to a rebuilding blueprint. This later became known to Clippers fans as "the Oklahoma City template," once the Thunder took off during the 2009-10 season.

The Clippers would build around their future superstar (Blake Griffin) and his trusty perimeter sidekick (Eric Gordon), both of whom were on rookie-scale contracts. In the meantime, the team stockpiled intriguing assets, such as DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu. The Clippers managed to unload Baron Davis for the shorter, less-expensive contract of Mo Williams. Though the front office had meager offers for Chris Kaman, they held onto their All-Star center with the appreciation that he'd fetch more as his contract nudged closer to expiration.

There were a couple of hiccups along the way. The draft pick they sent to Cleveland along with Davis projected to be in the 8-12 range turned into a Kyrie Irving, a stroke of bad luck (the lottery pick had only a 2.8 percent chance of landing at No. 1). But for the most part, general manager Neil Olshey exercised discipline and foresight. Rather than overspend for middling talent in a dash for the No. 8 seed, the Clippers took a waiver on low-cost options such as Gomes and Randy Foye during the summer of 2010. Neither set the world on fire, but the Clippers' primary objective was keeping the balance sheet free of clutter as Griffin and Gordon approached their primes, even if it meant visiting Secaucus for a couple more years.

By agreeing to a three-year with Caron Butler, $24 million deal, the Clippers have taken a detour from their planned route. A franchise that's been protective of its cap flexibility will now pay $8 million to a small forward who is coming off a severe knee injury and has posted a player efficiency rating (PER) of 13.77 and 14.25 each of the past two seasons, respectively. Since the 2005-06, Butler hasn't played more than 67 games in a single season.

D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog took a look at where Butler stands, three months shy of his 32nd birthday:
Here’s the biggest problem with Butler -- [Butler] is a high usage scorer. Butler’s career usage rate (the percentage of offensive possessions used by a player during his time on the floor) is 22.7 percent. Last year in an injury-shortened season on a championship Dallas Mavericks team, it was at 25.1 percent. That ranked him seventh in the NBA for small forwards, ahead of guys like Paul Pierce and Rudy Gay. Short version: Caron Butler uses a lot of possessions.

... With Chris Kaman coming back healthy and demanding a big chunk of the looks (he hasn’t passed up an open 15-footer since, oh, 2005), and Gordon and Griffin demanding more possessions if anything, where are all these shots for Butler supposed to generate from? Who loses all those possessions?

... Let’s say, despite all that, you’re sold on Butler as the scorer the Clippers need. Sixteen points a game at 44 percent shooting is nice. He’s got a nice midrange game and can slash. OK. I’m with you.

But if the priority is placing shooters around Gordon and Griffin — and unless something has changed, it is — then why add Butler? Prior to what can probably be labeled as a statistical outlier (43 percent in 29 games last season), Caron Butler was a 31 percent career 3-point shooter. On his career, he’s attempted less than two 3-pointers a game. He’s not a deep threat or a spot-up shooter by any means, and he doesn’t really stretch the floor because all of his damage is done in iso situations, off his own jab steps. If you want to chase good 3-point shooting numbers in a small sample size, Al-Farouq Aminu’s start to last season works just as well.

The Clippers don't have a legitimate ball-mover on the floor to help jump-start their gummy 23rd-ranked offense. Now they'll have a player at the small forward position whose assist rate ranks below the likes of Kaman, Zach Randolph, Chris Wilcox and Corey Maggette.

Is Butler an upgrade over Ryan Gomes? Yes, so long as he's in uniform -- something he often isn't. The small forward market is dwindling by the hour, so it's likely the Clippers felt the urgency to do something at the 3 spot. But for a team that hopes to add a max player alongside Blake Griffin (who, himself will demand a max contract before the expiration of Butler's deal) and needs to find money to retain Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan in the next year, the cap hit for an aging small forward with a high injury risk and ball-stopping tendencies doesn't conform to a model of smart team-building that have made the Clippers relevant and potentially on the cusp of something bigger.

Monday Bullets

July, 25, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
  • J.A. Adande joined Baron Davis on the campus of UCLA, where the Cavs point guard will try to maintain a GPA, not a PER. At Hardwood Paroxysm, Holly MacKenzie shares a story about how, several seasons back, Davis blew her off in a locker room in Seattle, only to track her down later on in the tunnel to make amends: "[Davis] taught me a lesson: players can be cranky, and sometimes you’ll approach them after a bad loss or performance when they’re angry or bitter or caught up in something. But often times, how someone treats you on that single occasion isn’t a fair representation of who that person is."
  • Davis coached LeBron James in a Drew League game on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles. Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports: "[Drew League director Dino] Smiley said many fans tweeted and sent text messages about James’ arrival. 'Every edge' of the court in the tiny gym, Smiley said, was packed. Smiley said the gym doors were eventually closed shut during James’ game by law enforcement officers, who told fans if they left they couldn’t return"
  • Thunderground Radio evaluates how Sam Presti fared in 2010-11. Was the Perkins-Green trade necessary? Can Reggie Jackson make an impact in the backcourt?
  • Blake Griffin is a monster and, barring injury, projects to be a indomitable franchise player. For the Clippers, that's the easy part. The more elastic variable for the team is Eric Gordon. If the Clippers aren't able to land a marquee superstar, could they still be a force in the West with Gordon as their featured perimeter threat with Griffin down low, provided DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe continue to grow? Nick Flynt of ClipperBlog takes a look.
  • What happened to the Trail Blazers after they broke up their Finals core in 1993? A retrospective from Blazers Edge.
  • I'm a sucker for any basketball post that prominently features Bob Walk, who pitched for the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates. A pitcher named Walk would the equivalent of a hoopster named Travel. But the thrust of the Negative Dunkalectics' post by Chris George is not the dubiously-named Walk, but the playing career of Warriors head coach Mark Jackson: "Mark Jackson was a comparatively small and non-athletic man, largely informed by a street game, who managed to use a few moves over and over again to put up much better numbers than he 'should' have. The combination of the back down, the baby hook, the no-look passes, the teardrop, and the push shot made him one of the most frustrating point guards of his era, even if he never had the ability to be a true star."
  • Jason Terry delivered the first pitch at Sunday's Texas Rangers game to Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler. Dirk Nowitzki via Twitter: "Was jet's first pitch at rangers game better than mine? Didn't anyone see it? Let me know."
  • Who is Manuel Velez Pangilinan? He's the very wealthy, very influential guy behind the pair of exhibition games at Araneta Coliseum in Manila between a slew of NBA stars and standouts from the Philippine Basketball Association. The two games were standing room only and tickets on the secondary market ran as much as four times face value.
  • The WNBA named its 15 best players ever. Ball in Europe follows with its 15 best Euroleague women players in history.
  • Hakeem Olajuwon, Marco Belinelli and Hedo Turkoglu: Each initially excited Raps fans when he signed on the dotted line, only to fall way short of expectations. For good measure, five Raptors draft picks that raised eyebrows.
  • Six years prior to putting on a Raptors jersey, Olajuwon logged 39 points and 17 rebounds in the Game 6 clincher of the 1995 Western Conference finals against the Spurs. NBA Off-Season presents another in their Lockout Classics series.
  • If Kobe Bryant is Derek Jeter, then Derek Fisher is Jorge Posada. Does that make Robert Horry Scott Brosius?
  • Look out, Monday. Wes Matthews is in mission mode.
  • Kings big man Jason Thompson: "Congrats to the NFL on ending their Lockout....NOW its OUR TURN!!!!"

Wednesday Bullets

August, 25, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

The Clippers move on

March, 10, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
When the Los Angeles Clippers relieved him of his head coaching duties nearly five weeks ago, Mike Dunleavy conceded that his team needed to hear from a fresh voice. Dunleavy moved upstairs in his role as general manager and readied himself for the trading deadline and the June draft. He took a bow after the Clippers were able wipe $5.5 million off the books at the deadline to put themselves in position to extend a massive contract in the 2010 free agency chase, and scheduled scouting trips to get an up close look at this year's crop of college talent. Dunleavy was slated to be in Greensboro this weekend to catch the ACC Tournament. On Tuesday, those plans came to abrupt halt as the organization completely disassociated itself from Dunleavy. Clippers' assistant general manager Neil Olshey will assume the position of GM.

Olshey's route to the top echelon of the Clippers organization is fascinating. He first arrived in Los Angeles as an actor, having appeared on a couple of ABC soap operas that taped in New York City. Once he came west, Olshey continued to work as a commercial actor, but ultimately ended up in the local high school basketball coaching ranks. He held an assistant coaching job at powerhouse Artesia High School, which has produced a bevy of talent in recent years, from Jason Kapono to James Harden. In 2001, Olshey landed at SFX, Arn Tellem and David Falk's agency, where he served as director of player development and prepped the company's clients for pre-draft workouts.

When Dunleavy got the head coaching job with the Clippers in 2003, Tellem recommended Olshey for a position. Olshey was hired by the Clippers as director of player development, the same title he held at SFX. From there, Olshey moved up the ranks. He assisted Dunleavy on the bench during the 2004-05 season, and was elevated to director of player personnel a season later. Once Elgin Baylor was ousted as general manager in favor of Mike Dunleavy in October 2008, Olshey was promoted to the role of assistant general manager, a job he held until Tuesday, when he claimed the mantle as the Clippers' general manager.

Sources around the league maintain that with Dunleavy focused primarily on his coaching responsibilities, Olshey has been the main pipeline into the Clippers' organization for a while now. Though Dunleavy -- and Clippers president Andy Roeser above him -- had veto power over any personnel moves, Olshey was the guy you called when you wanted to discuss deals. If that premise is correct, then Olshey had a big hand in getting the Clippers where they want to be financially heading into the summer.

The Clippers are placing a premium on flexibility as they strip their personnel down to the bare essentials in preparation for an active offseason. Only Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan are under contract for 2010-11, and the organization will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-16 million to spend in free agency. Removing Dunleavy further enables them to reformulate, rebrand and reload.

In addition to extending a hefty contract to an elite player, might the Clippers also be looking for big names to preside in the front office and on the sidelines? Hours before the Clippers announced Dunleavy's termination, a report surfaced that Larry Brown reached out to the Clippers regarding a possible return to Los Angeles. Given the outcome in Charlotte's ownership situation, the likelihood of Brown taking a second tour with the Clippers seems unlikely, but the rumor does speak to the Clippers' desire for a complete makeover.

The timing of Dunleavy's firing is interesting considering that the Clippers are playing out the string under an interim coach. Evidently, the organization decided that even with one year remaining on his four-year, $22 million contract extension, Dunleavy's presence no longer offered value for the future. Personnel decisions of this magnitude are usually couched in conciliatory language, but the Clippers' press release was especially pointed:
The organization has determined that the goal of building a winning team is best served by making this decision at this time. The team has simply not made sufficient progress during Dunleavy’s seven-year tenure. The Clippers want to win now. This transition, in conjunction with a full commitment to dedicate unlimited resources, is designed to accomplish that objective.

The Clippers have placed themselves in a unique and advantageous position. Last month, they signaled that there's a potential opportunity for a top free agent to name his own coach. On Tuesday, that hypothetical was extended even further -- name your own coach and general manager.

If only the Clippers could say, "Name your owner."

The Clippers get ready for Summer 2010

February, 18, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Los Angeles Clippers
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Gentlemen, slide over and make some room.

For the better part of a year, the Los Angeles Clippers have been lurking around the fringes of the 2010 free agent marketplace. For bored sportswriters and denizens of NBA message boards, the Clippers have been a fun hypothetical in the LeBron James parlor game -- whether James has any interest in the Clippers is an entirely other matter.

Wednesday, the realm of possibility became a little bit larger for the Clippers, when they managed to shoehorn themselves into the Antawn Jamison deal. Cleveland’s acquisition of their coveted stretch-4 will undoubtedly be the lead story, but the Clippers were somehow able to dump $5.5 million in 2010-11 payroll by offloading Al Thornton onto the Wizards and Sebastian Telfair onto the Cavaliers. In the process, the Clippers have established themselves as a legitimate contender for the league’s elite free agents this summer.

The Clippers will enter the summer with a skeletal roster consisting of only Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan -- with just over $33 million in salary commitments. Assuming they keep their first-round draft pick and depending on the salary cap, the Clippers will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-$16 million range to spend, which will be about the amount needed to pay a maximum salary, maybe a bit shy.

For Mike Dunleavy, the primary target seems obvious enough. But what happens in the likely event that LeBron James chooses to stay in Cleveland or points east? It's that old dilemma: If cap space exists on a spreadsheet and there's no one around to claim it, does it really exist?

Plan A: King's Ransom
Ironically, the deal that freed up all that cap space for the Clippers also reduced the likelihood that LeBron James will leave Cleveland next summer. The Clippers will certainly make their pitch to James and his representatives, and they have a good case to make. Few other teams would be able to offer James a more attractive supporting cast than the Clippers. Despite the drawbacks of sharing the market with Kobe Bryant, southern California is certainly big enough for two superstars. The ancillary benefits that come with being in Los Angeles are also alluring, from the lifestyle to the media spotlight that's essential for cultivating a global brand. The Clippers offer one other intriguing sweetener: the opportunity for James to have enormous (unilateral?) input on whom he'd like patrolling the sidelines as head coach.

There are a host of reasons why James would decline the Clippers' overtures -- ownership, history, the Lakers' long shadow -- but the primary one is that he's happy where he is. Still, the Clippers are obliged to ask.

Plan B: Max Junior
For a team that's struggling, the Clippers are remarkably well accounted for at multiple positions on the floor. Davis, their point guard, has three years and nearly $42 million remaining on his contract. Center Chris Kaman is locked in for another two years. Both Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin are good, young assets at the shooting guard and power forward spots respectively. The Clippers need someone to play small forward, but after James, the crop of free agents at that position is very thin. At 6-foot-7, Joe Johnson could man the 3 spot for the Clippers, but it's believed that Johnson isn't looking to return west. After Johnson, the field drops off considerably. Rudy Gay has the size and length the Clippers covet at that spot, but the Clippers would probably have to overpay to lure Gay away from Memphis, where he'll be a restricted free agent.

If the Clippers detect that Dwyane Wade is less than happy with Miami's recovery plan, would they present an offer? Even with Eric Gordon maturing nicely, the chance to bring a top 5 player to work alongside Blake Griffin would be too tempting to not explore.

Plan C: Superabsorbent
The deal that netted the Clippers their cap savings proved that high-priced players under contract are readily available so long as you're willing to soak up the remaining years and dollars. If the Clippers strike out with their top free agent targets, there might be ample opportunity to pluck a top-shelf producer from a team that wants to move into rebuilding mode or become more flexible.

The Clippers could potentially execute a sign-and-trade deal for a small forward, someone like Luol Deng or, if they're sold on his clean bill of health, Tayshaun Prince. It would require some creative maneuvering by the Clippers, but preying on a struggling franchise looking to shed some long-term liabilities could present them with a far better value than overpaying for a free agent.

Plan D: Building Blocks
The Clippers' starting four (plus Jordan) provides the franchise with a strong foundation, but they won't have another soul under contract after the season ends. Is $15 million best spent on a single savior, or are Clippers better off apportioning that money to multiple players?

It's a risky proposition in a league that's ruled by superstars. In recent memory, only the 2003-04 Pistons have been able to win a title without a surefire superstar. The road to hell is often paved with midlevel players. The counterargument goes that a healthy Blake Griffin is slated for superstardom. And the best way to foster that process? Surround Griffin with smart, efficient, productive glue guys who understand their roles. That might not win the Clippers the Larry O'Brien trophy, but you have to walk before you can run. A group of high-IQ competitors with a strong work ethic under a new coach would set the Clippers on that road.

Plan K
For the record, Kobe Bryant has yet to reach an extension with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Carry on.

Plan Aborted
Whether the Clippers are able to lure a dynamic superstar with a max contract or ink multiple players to smaller deals, there are any number of things that could go wrong for the franchise. Since arriving in Westwood as a freshman, Davis has played for exactly one coach he's fully embraced. Kaman was selected to his first All-Star Game this month, but Clippers fans are well aware of how precarious his progress is. The Clippers have high expectations for Griffin, but he has yet to suit up for his first regular-season NBA game.

And those retail purchases? They have a way of looking much more attractive in the storefront window than they do in real life.

The Great NBA Swap Meet

September, 23, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Yesterday, we made mention of Brett Hainline's swap machine, which uses a player's offensive and defensive efficiency ratings to determine how swapping one player out for another would improve your team's overall performance. 

Once Hainline went live with it, I immediately did what any Los Angeles Clippers fan would do -- nixed the uniquely inefficient Al Thornton from the starting lineup. To fill Thornton's place at small forward, I opted for efficiency poster boy Shane Battier. 

It's important to keep in mind that with salary cap restraints, such a trade would be impossible in the real world, but I was more interested in approximating how much better would the Clippers be with a player of Battier's mold on the wing. 

The results were fascinating. Queen City Hoops estimates that the Clippers would be 10 games better with Battier in Thornton's place. Here's QCH's breakdown:

Troy Murphy

For a larger image of this chart, click here.

To better understand how the Clippers pick up those additional 10 wins, I asked Hainline to walk me through what all this stuff means: 

We are looking at both ends of the small forward spectrum: Al Thornton is a high-volume yet inefficient scorer who plays little defense. Shane Battier is regarded as one of the league's best defenders while being an ancillary player offensively, taking few shots but converting them at a high rate. My fascination with Allen Iverson aside, it frustrates me to see players recognized as being great when all they are really doing is shooting a lot (remember Adam Morrison making the All-Rookie team?). That pet peeve of mine makes this opportunity all the sweeter -- this is a chance to show what kind of impact those players really make.

The first table shows actual statistics from last season. The efficiencies shown are for their respective teams: When Al is on the court for the Clippers, they had a net efficiency of -10.5, but with him off the court, they actually improved to -7.4. The reverse was true in Houston, as Shane helped the Rockets to a +4.9 mark, but that number dipped to +2.8 when Shane was on the pine. The last four columns are individual statistics.

From those numbers, we can estimate how another player would impact a team by replacing someone. By taking the on court efficiencies of the Clippers, and the respective numbers for Al and Shane, we get the numbers you see in the first row of the second table.  Notice a significant boost on both sides of the ball, as their offensive efficiency is predicted to rise by 2.4 points and their defensive efficiency is expected to decline by 2.6.  Here is how we got there:

  • Offensively, Al Thornton used a large chunk of his team's possessions, but was using them at a rate below that of his teammates - his 23.4 points from 23.1 possessions works out to an efficiency of 101.3, meaning his teammates were the ones boosting that offensive work.
  • Shane was a low usage player in Houston, but if he replaced a player in a higher usage position, he might be called on to take some more scoring load.  That is what the final term in the second equation is estimating: The difference in possessions used between the two players (23.1 - 9.7) is multiplied by the efficiency of Thornton's remaining teammates [(101.8 - 23.4) divided by (100 - 23.1) = 102.0] averaged with Battier's scoring efficiency [(11.2 / 9.7) = 115.5].
  • Defensively, we something similar, but this time the players are nearly identical in the possessions used category, so the improvement in defensive efficiency is almost entirely attributable to the improvement Shane represents. 
That gives us an estimate of what to expect with Shane on the court for the Clippers -- a 27 win team. It's not great, but it's 10 more games than when Thornton was lacing them up for them.

But what about when Shane is not on the court? With injuries and age being a concern, we should account for the fact that Shane played over 600 minutes less than Thornton did last season, and that is what the final three rows look at. They're estimates of the team's overall efficiencies, including time with Shane on and off the court -- their whole season in other words. 

The initial row projects Shane to just use up all of Thornton's minutes, meaning the now less efficient off-court numbers are used the same amount as they were last season for the Clippers. Given the estimated improvement the Clippers could see with Shane on the court replacing Al, and the same amount of minutes going to the "bench," a weighted average of the on court and off court numbers puts the Clippers with an overall net efficiency of -6.1, good for 25 wins, which is still significantly better than their actual numbers from last year.

However, what if Shane really does need to play fewer minutes?  Due to age and injuries, he may be good for 2000 and no more. Well, the bench picks up those minutes, so instead of 1300 minutes going to a -7.4 efficiency group, they get 1900 minutes. 1900 minutes to a -7.4, 2000 to a -5.5, and the Clippers project to an overall efficiency of -6.4, dropping another win from total.

The final row describes the case where the Clippers need more minutes from Shane than he could provide in Houston, and he obliges, but his knees still won't let him get all the way to Al's minutes. So, we say 2300 minutes with Shane on, 1600 with him off, and we get a -6.3 efficiency for the Clippers on the season, and they get back to 25 wins.

The notion of a replacement player will always be far dicier in basketball than it is in a sport like baseball, where a variable such as "plate appearance" is relatively easy to isolate. As Hainline explains, comparing two players is far more complicated than handing one guy's minutes to another. No two players' minutes are alike. The instant you place Battier on the floor for Thornton, you immediately increase the offensive roles of Eric Gordon, Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, to say nothing about the team's increased reliance on its bench because Thornton, for all his failings, is a more durable player than Battier.

For an infinite supply of amusement, go to Queen City Hoops and assume the role of basketball Zeus.

Operation Facelift

August, 17, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

The Los Angeles Clippers introduced Rasual Butler this afternoon to the local media at their training facility in Playa Vista. For those keeping a tally of what's become of Zach Randolph, Clippers general manager and head coach Mike Dunleavy has now spun him off for the following: 

  • Rasual Butler (1 year, $3.95M)
  • Craig Smith (1 year, $2.5M)
  • Sebastian Telfair (2 years, $5.2M, the second year a $2.7M player option)
  • Mark Madsen (1 year, $2.84M)
  • A remaining trade exception for $3.36M 
  • $14.63M in salary savings for 2010-11, assuming Telfair picks up his option
  • A spot in the starting lineup at the power forward for Blake Griffin

There are no marquee names on that list, and nobody who can match Randolph's raw numbers, but judging from Dunleavy's mood on Monday afternoon, he's over the moon that he's been able to parlay arguably his worst blunder as general manager -- the acquisition of Randolph -- into a collection of cheap, complementary assets and tremendous financial flexibility.

The Clippers are almost certain to improve upon their 19 wins of last season. To what extent they'll be in factor in the Western Conference playoff race is anyone's guess. But if Dunleavy the GM has accomplished nothing else, he's starting to cobble together a roster that looks a lot more workable to Dunleavy the coach.

Dunleavy likes to post his guards, and has been imploring the small -- but brawny -- Eric Gordon to develop a post game, something he showed off in Las Vegas. With Butler, Dunleavy gets a lanky swingmen whom he can use in that capacity.

"If you're a 2-guard and you're 6-7, we can throw you down in the post some," Dunleavy said. 

Less discussed, but more relevant is whether Dunleavy will act on his impulse as a tactician: Start Butler ahead of Al Thornton. 

"We'll figure out what makes the best sense for us," Dunleavy said. "Coming into training camp, it'll be pretty wide open."

Dunleavy has coveted a Bowen-model small forward ever since arriving in Los Angeles. He took on defensive stopper Quinton Ross as a project, but Ross was never able to develop a perimeter shot that could stretch defenses. Instead, Dunleavy has had to cope with Corey Maggette and now Thornton. Both are capable creators for themselves, but ball-stoppers, defensive liabilities -- and endless sources of frustration for Dunleavy. Butler is no Bruce Bowen, but he's the corner sniper (45% from there), and long perimeter defender Dunleavy's been after.

Few teams will come into the season with more elastic expectations than the Clippers. So much is uncertain: Blake Griffin's ceiling in his rookie season; Baron Davis' health and resolve; Chris Kaman's ability to bounce back from injury; Eric Gordon's progress.

Toward the end of his media session, Dunleavy spoke about the physical regimen he requires of his players -- their body fat targets and conditioning programs. He also described a torturous, 60-second, three-man weave drill he had to perform himself as a rookie more than 30 years ago.

"If you can do that," Dunleavy said, "then you're in shape." 

Dunleavy paused, then added wistfully, "Last year, I don't think we ever got to it. Period."

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz 

Five days down, five to go at Las Vegas Summer League. Some teams are nearly through with their schedule, while others are just rolling into town. Since we're halfway through, it's a good moment to take inventory of what we've seen so far, and hand out some early awards.

Keep in mind that some teams have played only a single game and some stellar performances might not be acknowledged (read: Jerryd Bayless): 

All-Rookie Team

  • Tyreke Evans (SAC): Evans' one-on-one power game has produced a sick line. In three games, Evans has averaged 24.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Most impressively, Evans has attempted 41 free throws in three games. His transition to point guard is a work in progress, but he'll be a scoring machine no matter where he plays on the floor.

    Tyreke Evans Tyreke Evans has shown the ability to score points at will.
    (Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

  • Blake Griffin (LAC): Griffin followed up his momentous 27-point, 12-rebound debut Monday night with a hum-drum 16-point, 9-rebound, 5-assist performance. Griffin directs traffic on both ends of the floor, and has been a pleasant surprise on pick-and-roll defense -- something he didn't encounter a whole lot at the college level. 
  • Darren Collison (NOH): The Hornets' first-round pick has brought the discipline and patience of his UCLA pedigree to the pro game. He matched George Hill mano-a-mano in his first game, then came back Tuesday night with 23 points. He's also a perfect 16-for-16 from the stripe in his two games. 
  • Roddy Beaubois (DAL): Before the Mavericks' rookie point guard took a scary spill Monday night in his third outing, he was electrifying crowds in Cox Pavilion with his combination of speed and range. He ran up 34 points against the Rockets Saturday night, including 7-for-12 from beyond the arc. 
  • Jodie Meeks (MIL): The second-round pick out of Kentucky might not be one of the more athletic two-guards here, but he has lit it up from midrange, averaging 16.7 points per game on 60 percent shooting. The Bucks' brass is said to be very, very pleased.

All-Sophomore Team

  • Anthony Randolph (GSW): Quite simply, the most dominant, skilled, devastating player in town. On Tuesday, his 42 points tied a Summer League record. His current averages through four games: 26.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks on 60.9 percent shooting from the field.
  • George Hill (SAS): Hill has demonstrated a complete command of the Spurs offense. He has picked his spots offensively, and finished -- unlike last year, when he shot eight percent from the field in Summer League action. He's averaging 20.5 points per game and getting to the line at will.
  • Eric Gordon (LAC): In his two games, the Clippers' second-year guard has muscled his way to the hole for 21 and 22 points, respectively. His 21-for-22 totals from the free-throw line demonstrate that strategy is working well. 
  • Robin Lopez (PHX): The question surrounding Lopez has been one of resolve, but Lopez looked fierce in his first Summer League game, racking up 24 points, 16 boards, and a couple of blocks.
  • DeAndre Jordan (LAC): Jordan's athletic attributes have never been in question. Whether he could package it all together into a coherent low-post game was another matter. So far, Jordan has dominated the interior for the Clippers. He's shooting 15-for-19 from the field. He's shown sharp recognition in the post and is winning every race to the basket.  

All-Vets & Journeymen Team

  • Quincy Douby (TOR): Douby has been working hard on his game, and his effort is paying off in Las Vegas. He's shooting the ball efficiently from distance, racking up assists, and keeping turnovers to a minimum. Toronto may not have room for him in their backcourt, but his 19 points per game on 61.1 percent shooting should catch someone's attention. 
  • Nick Young (WAS): The Wizards haven't even unpacked, but Nick Young's first game Tuesday night was a revelation. The third-year guard went insane, running up 36 points on 13-for-19 shooting, against the Cavs' hapless perimeter defenders. 
  • Adam Morrison (LAL): It might not be the most efficient stat line of the week, but Morrison has put together a nice series of games. He's scored from distance, off cuts, and by putting the ball on the deck. It's a long road back for Morrison, but this week has served as a solid stepping stone back to respectability. 
  • David Monds (LAL): The forward spent last summer in the D-League, and has been a solid contributor to the Lakers' 3-1 Summer League record thus far. He's averaging 14 points and five rebounds, and only 0.5 turnovers per game. He's also shooting an efficient 64.1 percent from the field.
  • Walker Russell, Jr. (D-League Select): A sentimental choice off the D-League Select roster, Russell is a creative, pass-first point guard. He sees the floor with an uncanny awareness of exactly where his teammates are, and where they want the ball. His pinpoint passes were the highlight of the Select team's victory over the Timberwolves. 

All-The-Week-Isn't-Working-Out-So-Far Team

David Thorpe shares his thoughts about who's had a disappointing week in Vegas

  • Stephen Curry Curry has struggled with his shooting touch, while Randolph can't seem to miss.
    (Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

    Stephen Curry (GSW): The good news for Curry is that he's been able to get shots -- largely because the ball has been in his hand. He's picking his opportunities. Unfortunately, he's picking far too many of them. Although he's averaging 19.5 points per game, he's doing it on only 31.4 percent shooting. His assist/turnover ratio? 4.5 to 3.75. 
  • Donte Greene (SAC): Greene is a bit of collateral damage playing next to Tyreke Evans. He needs the ball in the right spots, and Evans can't deliver those passes yet. So Greene is struggling to score efficiently, shooting only 8-for-27 over three games. 
  • Mike Taylor (LAC): Taylor can shoot, is lightning quick, and plays with spirit. But he's not been able to put it together and doesn't look like a rotation point guard. 
  • Bobby Brown (MIN): Sorry to break fellow Titan Marc Stein's heart, but for a team that just drafted two rookie PGs, Brown hoped to show this week that he could be part of the Timberwolves' backcourt rotation. That's looking unlikely. He's shooting 35.7 percent from the field, and not giving the 'Wolves much else. 
  • Luc Mbah a Moute (MIL): Mbah a Moute has already proved he's a rotation player in this league. He was hoping to show that he can be more than just a tough defender. Thus far, that hasn't happen

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • The best pure passer in Las Vegas this week? Try Walker Russell, Jr. from the D-League Select team. Russell lives for threading needles, lobbing alley-oops, dishing on the break, and swinging skip passes to the weak side. He couldn't care less about his own shot. There are 150 players here this week with more electric games than Russell, but few of them are more enjoyable to watch, and none of them are having more fun on the floor than Russell. 
  • Ahmad Nivins looks like a pro player -- long, muscular, athletic, and coordinated. The but that usually follows this profile is ... lacks fundamentals, or doesn't have a post game. With Nivins, though, that doesn't appear to be the case. He displays good footwork, moves around the floor with purpose, and is a beast on the boards. When you ask folks here why he dropped to No. 56 in the draft, you get a lot of shrugs, followed by a soft endorsement of his skills. He's had a nice week thus far -- 14 points and 6 rebounds per game on 51.6 percent shooting from the field. The only apparent drawback is that he looks waaaay too wound up on the court, and that intensity occasionally works against him.    
  • Funniest moment of the day came before the first ball was tipped. In the opening introductions of the Timberwolves-D-League Select team, Wayne Ellington was introduced as hailing from Duke. As Ellington trotted onto the floor, he did a double-take -- Whaaa?! -- then cracked a big smile as the public address announcer corrected himself, noting that Ellington went to North Carolina. "That was ridiculous!" Ellington said of the PA's snafu. "I had to go over and say something to the guy."
  • Kurt Helin watched the Pistons-Warriors matchup. Looks like Stephen Curry is fitting in just fine with Golden State's system: "[Curry] is a gunner to the point of recklessness - but what fan doesn't want to see that. He has not met a shot he didn't like. Making said shots... well, maybe that will come with time. He was 4 of 14 in his first game, 8 of 22 in his second, 7 of 19 in the third. In case you're not up for the math, that is 34.5%. He's better from three - 39 % - and tends to drain those if you leave him open. Not only do the fans not care, neither do the coaches. 'The shots he's missing now he will make soon, he's learning to make decisions,' said Keith Smart, who coaches the Warriors Summer League team. You can see how Curry could fit well as a point guard - a shoot-first point guard, sure, but he has the ball handling skills and made some good decisions trying to set up teammates. In the third game, with some Warrior regulars around him, Curry was clearly trying to set people up. Of course, then he would jack up a 28-footer."
  • Blake Griffin was the story of the evening for the Clippers, but DeAndre Jordan continues to flash glimmers of hmmmmm. He went 8-for-9 from the field against the Lakers in 27 minutes. Jordan was on the receiving end of some alley-oops, but he also worked the post for a few of those buckets, something he had trouble doing effectively last season. It wasn't all pretty for Jordan -- four turnovers, and an 0-for-5 night from the line. But when he slows down and works deliberately (but assertively), his athleticism is a tough matchup for 95% of the bigs in the league.
  • David Thorpe had an interesting tweet-servation about Griffin that, at first, seems counter-intuitive, but makes a lot of sense when you watch the rookie up close: "Griffin is a special athlete. Not because of his explosiveness. It's the combination of athleticism, power, balance, and coordination." 
  • Jerryd Bayless has a Summer League scoring title to defend, and he got 22 points in his first game. His seven assists and eight free throw attempts are probably more important to the Blazers' brain trust. 
  • Dante Cunningham put on a show for the Trail Blazers faithful (who, needless to say, travel well), from Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "While general manager Kevin Pritchard and coach Nate McMillan scrutinized Bayless from the stands, Cunningham stole a lot of their attention. The second-round pick from Villanova started at power forward and showcased a nice midrange jump shot, a nose for the basketball and sturdy defensive prowess. He finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, making 8 of 17 field goals and 5 of 6 free throws. After the game, he was chosen to man an autograph zone in the lobby of the arena, where he scribbled his name on jerseys, shirts and hats and posed for pictures with fans -- many of whom sported Blazers jerseys. 'If he can knock that (midrange shot) down consistently, he's going to be a player,' McMillan said. 'And I think that's going to come. His rotation and everything is good. He just needs to keep shooting when he's open.'"
  • I didn't get a chance to see the Kings-Bucks game, but Tyreke Evans put up eye-popping numbers that had the campus abuzz: 33 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists. What's more? 19 free throw attempts, 17 of them successful. Evans is the most physical guard in Las Vegas this week (with Eric Gordon coming in second).
  • The Warriors have Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow mic'd up for Summer League games. 
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Moments prior to Blake Griffin's NBA debut, the Los Angeles Clippers' brass was lined up courtside, smiling widely like expectant parents. And if the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas weren't a smoke-free facility, they would've been lighting up stogies two minutes into the Clippers' Summer League game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Blake Griffin Blake Griffin: Scoring Every Which Way
(Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

Griffin, the Clips' prized rookie and the first overall pick in this year's NBA draft, delivered seven points in the game's first three possessions. In his first professional set, Griffin hooked up with second-year guard Eric Gordon for a pick-and-roll that resulted in an easy layup for the rookie.

"That should be the bread and butter this coming year," Gordon said. "We're both young guys and we should have a great chemistry."

The Gordon-Griffin connection was just the opening salvo in Griffin's 27-point, 12-rebound attack, but it was a huge relief for the rookie who was antsy to play competitive basketball for the first time since suiting up for Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament last spring.

"I really wanted to hit my first layup to take the edge off a little bit," Griffin said. "I kind of settled down on my jumpers."

You could say that.

Though Griffin hit a grand total of three 3-pointers in his two-year college career, he followed up that first layup Monday night by moving out to the perimeter for his next two buckets. On the Clippers' second possession, Griffin got the ball from guard Mike Taylor, absorbed hard contact from Lakers big man Ben McCauley, squared up and went glass from 15. He bested that the next trip down with a silky 3-pointer.

What got into Griffin?

It might have something to do with the fact that Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy actually stopped practice the other day to implore the rookie to launch the ball when he's got an open look.

"I caught one almost in the same position, passed it up, and he stopped me and said, 'Shoot the ball. I'm not going to get mad if you take a wide-open shot,'" Griffin recounted. "So I'm trying to get into that mindset."

Griffin has been plugging away to refine his outside shot. In a league increasingly dominated by power forwards who can do more than just throw their weight around inside of 15 feet, he knows he'll have to develop a face-up game if he wants to live up to his promise.

"The kid's been working like crazy on his outside shot," Dunleavy said. "Yesterday in practice, he hit a 20-footer, then a 3-pointer to end one of the games, and made probably six jumpers over 20 feet."

Griffin finished 11-of-15 from the field, and those 11 shots came every which way. He worked familiar territory on the right block. He pulled down offensive rebounds and muscled up putbacks. He fired turnaround hook shots. He even ignited a solo, coast-to-coast break to punctuate his performance in the fourth quarter. Granted, Griffin will draw tougher assignments this fall than McCauley and David Monds, but the range of skills the rookie displayed Monday night was impressive.

"He did everything we expected him to do," Dunleavy said. "For a guy like him, it's hard to have a bad game because he plays so hard and does so many things. He's very unselfish and he draws a lot of attention. Tonight, he made the plays to the right people at the right time and got them easy scores."

Along those lines, Griffin repeatedly laid out hard screens for Gordon and Taylor, precisely the sort of grunt work that the Clippers sorely missed last season at the power forward spot. Twice when he got doubled in the right post, Griffin whipped sharp interior passes to open teammates.

On defense, Griffin was the most vocal presence on the floor for the Clippers, playing traffic cop on every defensive set. He let his guards know when screens were coming, and called out defensive assignments in transition.

"I did a lot of that last year in college," Griffin said. "This year I have to step it up even more because it will help me out, and if I talk I'm more aware of everything that's going on around me."

Awareness wasn't a strong suit of the Clippers last season. They finished 19-63, and dead last in the league in offensive efficiency. Although injuries played a measurable role in the team's struggles, their nightly routine was marred, above all, by laziness and a lack of intensity.

Griffin brings no such deficit to the court. If anything, the rookie was overly keyed up for his first game. After his early scoring spurt, Griffin racked up a couple of careless turnovers -- a function of playing too fast. As he went back to the bench at the end of the first quarter, the coaching staff had a tip for him.

"Just relax and have fun," Griffin said.