TrueHoop: Jose Calderon
Kyle Lowry, right, was supposed to unseat Jose Calderon, but Toronto is better without its new PG.
The list of NBA players averaging 15 points, five rebounds and five assists is just three names long. Two, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, are franchise cornerstones and perennial All-NBA selections. The other, Kyle Lowry, may have lost his starting job and will come off the bench Friday night in his return from a torn right tricep muscle.
Despite Lowry’s impressive production, Raptors coach Dwane Casey is sticking with veteran point guard Jose Calderon, who averaged 13 points and 10.6 assists per game while leading the 9-20 Raptors to a 5-2 record in Lowry's stead. During those seven games, the Raptors posted an offensive rating (107.9) and defensive rating (101.5) that would both be in the top 10 for the season.
“Jose has earned the position,” Casey told reporters. “Jose has played as well as any point guard we’ve had this year, so that’s where it is right now."
During the hot streak, Casey has often publicly credited Calderon's leadership with helping Toronto's young roster to play smarter ball.
"He’s our Peyton Manning," Casey told Grantland's Brett Koremenos. "As far as our quarterback on the floor, our eyes and ears, our leader, he’ll call out the opposing team’s plays [and] come back to the bench to give us a heads up."
Calderon is indeed one of the most enthusiastic gesturers in the NBA. He's constantly yelling through his mouthpiece and emotively waving his arms to get everyone in the right spot.
Under his direction, the team has played with a previously absent sense of cohesiveness and intensity on both ends of the court. While it's not necessarily shocking that Calderon, long one of the best in the league when it comes to directing an offense, has helped the Raptors score, he has a reputation for helping the other team’s offense nearly as much. But Casey's words suggest that the chemistry fostered on offense has translated to more effort and communication on the defensive end.
That may be true, though it’s hard to ignore that Andrea Bargnani and his inert, disinterested brand of defense have also been absent during the Raptors’ recent run of solid play. Meanwhile Lowry, though he hasn’t been as feisty and engaged as in previous seasons, is a player who made his name in the NBA as a lock-down defender before emerging as a solid starting point guard in Houston.
And it was in Houston where Lowry first lost his starting job while injured, when Goran Dragic took his spot midway through last season. By the time Lowry was traded for Toronto, it was clear he was fed up with his role in Houston and wanted to be treated more like his statistical counterparts James and Westbrook. As he told the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Fiegan last May, "I think I’m still a foundation guy. You can build around me."
In an interview with Raptors.com before the season, Lowry also said that he wouldn’t have wanted to come to Toronto if the Raptors had signed Steve Nash. “I wanted to be the starter,” Lowry explained. “[Nash is] a great guy to learn from, I’d have been a professional, but I didn’t want it.”
Lowry has put up the numbers, even in Toronto, to warrant such a high self-appraisal. His 2012-13 PER of 20.5 is good for sixth among point guards. But franchise players aren't just talented in their own right; they should make their teammates better, too.
That's where Casey sees Calderon's real value. He told the Toronto Star's Doug Smith that Calderon is “one of the main reasons why Terrence Ross has progressed at the right pace. He’s quarterbacked him, talked him through situations and really been a mentor for him on the court.”
Contrast that statement with what Casey said to Smith about the Raptors’ struggles before Calderon took over: “I thought we tried to do a little bit too much individually and once we honed in and started moving the ball, making the extra pass … setting screens, helping each other on the defensive end and the offensive end, we became a better team.”
When Lowry came to Toronto, it seemed the Raptors had found their point guard of the future. A nasty defender and effective pick-and-roll scorer, Lowry looked like the perfect pairing for rookie big man Jonas Valanciunas and wing slashers like DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. At 26 years old, Lowry is entering his prime as a point guard just as Calderon (31) is exiting his. Even their contracts line up -- Calderon is in the last year of his deal and Lowry’s next year is unguaranteed.
Lowry, the 24th overall pick in 2006, got this far by scrapping his way past players who were drafted higher than him and made more money. He had to prove himself every step of the way, by going after the opposing team’s ball handler and looking for his shot off of pick-and-rolls. In a way, he has been conditioned to be a bit selfish for fear of losing his position.
But to truly arrive as his franchise's point guard, he may need to temper those same instincts and focus more on how he can make his teammates better. To earn the security of a long-term contract with the Raptors, he has to play like he already has it.
Bulls 'D' makes the difference
The Chicago Bulls continued their recent domination of the New York Knicks, beating them for the second time this season and the sixth time in the last seven meetings.
The Knicks were 8-for-26 from 3-point range, continuing their live-by-the-3-pointer ways. They are 1-4 this season when shooting below 31 percent from 3-point range, 18-3 otherwise.
The Bulls have held the Knicks to 37 percent shooting in their two meetings this season, including 33 percent from 3-point range. They've also outrebounded the Knicks, 98-80.
-- Steven Martinez
Sanders earns one for Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks forward Larry Sanders has been one of the biggest reasons that the team won three of four meetings with the Boston Celtics this season. Sanders finished Friday with 17 points and 20 rebounds in the overtime win.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that he is the first Bucks player with 17 points and 20 rebounds against the Boston Celtics since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975. He is also the first player with a 17/20 game against the Celtics in Boston since Dikembe Mutombo for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001.
In four games against the Celtics, Sanders shot 24-for-35 from the field (69 percent). He's shooting a hair under 50 percent against the rest of the league.
-- Mark Simon
Calderon continues to roll
Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, who has been the focus of trade rumors (most notably involving the Los Angeles Lakers) continued his solid play in a win over the Orlando Magic.
Calderon has played at a much higher level when he’s been able to start, like in this game, in which he shot the ball well and chipped in nine assists.
He’s averaging 11.1 assists per 36 minutes in 13 games as a starter compared to 6.8 per 36 minutes in 15 games off the bench. Consider the fact that only one other player averages more than 11 assists per 36 minutes this season –- Rajon Rondo (11.7).
Toronto’s offense has seen drastic improvements with Calderon getting most of the minutes. In the 13 games he’s started, the Raptors are scoring 97.5 points. They're averaging 94.9 when he hasn’t. The gap widens to better than eight points per 100 possessions when you adjust for pace.
Calderon has dished out at least 17 assists in three of his 13 starts. That’s as many as the rest of the NBA’s point guards have combined.
When Kyle Lowry starts, the Raptors are 2-13. But when Calderon is on the floor for tip-off, they are now 7-6.
-- Josh Parcell
Getty ImagesBulls point guard Derrick Rose (left) and Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (right) each suffered a torn ACL.
Which point guard was more valuable to their team’s success this season? Most would probably assume Rose, the reigning MVP, was once again one of the most valuable players in the NBA when he was healthy. But is it possible that Rubio could’ve been a more valuable player than Rose?
In games Rubio played this season, the Timberwolves were 21-20 and had a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Without him, the Timberwolves lost 20 of their final 25 games and finished last place in the Northwest Division.
With Rubio off the court, the Timberwolves were 7.1 points worse per 48 minutes. The Timberwolves offense wasn’t affected as much as their defense was without Rubio. They scored 1.4 more points and allowed 5.7 fewer points per 48 minutes with Rubio on the court.
Rose missed 27 games during the regular season and the Bulls were 18-9 in those games. They were significantly better at 32-7 with Rose, but they still maintained the top seed in the East without him.
The Bulls were 3.5 points worse per 48 minutes with Rose off the court this season. The Bulls were greatly affected offensively without Rose, but their defense actually improved. They scored 8.2 fewer points and allowed 4.7 more points per 48 minutes with Rose off the court.
Neither Rubio nor Rose will be able to compete for their respective countries in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Which player’s injury will have a larger effect, Rubio on Spain or Rose on USA?
In the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Rubio averaged 8.1 assists per 40 minutes, the second-highest behind Argentina’s Pablo Prigioni. Spain had to rely heavily on Rubio running the point without Jose Calderon, who injured his leg and didn’t play in Turkey.
Calderon will be an offensive asset, but Spain could be hurt defensively without Rubio. Since Calderon entered the NBA in 2004, nobody has better than his 4.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. This season, the Raptors scored more, shot better and had a much better assist-to-turnover ratio when Calderon was on the court, but their opponents also scored more and shot better while Calderon was out there.
Raul Lopez, Sergio Llull and Juan Carlos Navarro could also contribute for Spain at the point.
Rose led USA in assists per game (3.2) in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Without him, USA’s point guard options are Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook. In the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Paul and Williams didn’t play and Westbrook averaged 18.8 points, 5.4 assists and 5.8 rebounds per 40 minutes. Paul (9.1 APG) and Williams (8.7 APG) both ranked in top five in the NBA this season in assists per game (Calderon was 4th and Rubio was 6th).
For the first time in four tries this season, the Miami Heat figured out the Boston Celtics coming away with a 100-77 win Sunday. It was Boston's worst loss this season who fell to 9-10 in their last 19 games. The win moved Miami a game up on the Celtics for the second seed in the Eastern Conference with two games left to play.
LeBron James scored 27 points while Dwyane Wade scored 14 points and Chris Bosh contributed 13. The Heat's "Big Three" have played 71 games together this season and Sunday's contest was just the third in which only one of them scored as many as 15 points. The two previous games of that kind were both on the road: a loss at Boston on October 26 and a win at Orlando on February 3.
Elsewhere, the Oklahoma City Thunder handed the Los Angeles Lakers their fifth straight loss Sunday 120-106. It's the longest losing streak for the Lakers since they lost seven straight in March 2007. That was prior to obtaining Pau Gasol. It was the most points the Lakers have allowed in a non-overtime game since they allowed 121 to the Suns on November 14.
Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony's 19-foot jumper with four seconds remaining in the game lifted the New York Knicks to a 110-109 win at Indiana. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Anthony has made five go-ahead or game-tying field goals in the final ten seconds of either the fourth quarter or overtime this season (two for Denver and three for New York), the most for any NBA player. Monta Ellis, Rudy Gay and Deron Williams have each made four such field goals this season.
Finally, Chris Paul was 0-for-6 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the line while handing out ten assists in the New Orleans Hornets’ loss at Memphis. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us it was the fifth NBA game this season in which a player had double-digit assists despite posting a “goose egg” in the point column. Jason Kidd has done it three times and Jose Calderon once.
James had a game-high 31 points despite not making a free throw (0-3). It’s the second time in his career that he didn’t make a free throw in a game in which he scored at least 30 points. On December 30, 2006, he went 0-3 from the free throw line in a 33-point effort against the Chicago Bulls.
While James missed all three of his free throw attempts, Dwyane Wade didn’t even get to the free throw line and still finished with 23 points. It’s the first time in his career he’s scored at least 20 points without attempting a free throw.
The last time the Heat had two players combine to score at least 50 points without making a free throw? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it happened 22 years ago to the day.
On February 22, 1989 Jon Sundvold scored 26 and Kevin Edwards had 24 in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Heat have 11 20-point wins this season, the most in the NBA.
Elsewhere in the NBA …
Kevin Love now has a double-double in 43 straight games, following his 20-point, 17-rebound effort in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. It was his 26th 20-15 game this season; next on that list is Dwight Howard with 18.
Despite losing their 11th straight road game, Toronto Raptors guards Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless each had double-digit assists (Calderon 11, Bayless 10). It’s the first time this season that teammates had at least 10 assists in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Blake Griffin led both teams in points (28), rebounds (11) and assists (8) in the Clippers’ loss to the Thunder. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Griffin became the first rookie in almost 25 years to record more points, rebounds and assists than any other player for either team in an NBA game. That had last been done by the Pacers’ Chuck Person, who produced a game-high 34 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a win against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 20, 1986.
Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu have the Raptors scoring buckets in bunches.
The hazards of small sample size theater run rampant during the opening weeks of any sports season. Look no further than the efficiency numbers of Paul Davis and Acie Law if you want an idea of how a tiny data set can skew results.
That being the case, it's hard to look at Toronto's top-ranked offense through nine games (113.7 points per 100 possessions) and not conclude that this season's Raptors squad is doing something right.
Raptors head coach Jay Triano cites the number of versatile playmakers as the pivotal factor for that gaudy offensive rating.
"So many of our guys are unselfish," Triano said. "They don't necessarily have to make plays for themselves. They make plays for their teammates."
Though Chris Bosh is unquestionably the Raptors' go-to guy, the team's reliance on mutual playmaking starts with Hedo Turkoglu. While many coaches would prefer to have the prototypically athletic small forward, Triano sees a wing like Turkoglu as the fulcrum of an offense predicated more on faciliation than on one-on-one slashing.
...Not that we should discount the prominence of one-on-one play in the Raptors' offense. Bosh has been destroying opposing big men, both in the post and off the dribble. But that dramatic improvement isn't merely the byproduct of adding off-season muscle or, dare we suggest, being in a contract year.
"When you have a guy who's 6-10, can dribble and create, it helps a lot," Bosh said. "[Turkoglu] is very unselfish. He has a knack for passing and finding me in good spots."
The Raptors' bigs have been running a dizzying array of pick-and-rolls that has been nearly impossible to defend. Turkoglu's exploits as the ball-handler in these situations are well-known to anyone who tuned into the 2009 postseason. Pairing him with forward-center Andrea Bargnani on a pick-and-pop is treacherous for the defense, because Bargnani has unlimited range along the perimeter. If you trap Turkoglu, a defender has to rotate onto Bargnani from the weak side. You can forget about sliding a defender up from the post, because Turkoglu is more than happy to find Bosh down on the block, where he's been lethal. Then there's the Turkoglu/Bosh pick-and-roll -- the kind of set that keeps defensive assistants up at night.
If this overall scheme sounds a bit familiar, that's because we've seen it before.
"It's really kind of similar to Orlando," Turkoglu said. "It's a little different because Bosh and Dwight [Howard] play different, and Andrea is bigger than Rashard, but we're getting the same kind of good offense."
It's not just the big men that enable Triano to execute his offensive plan.
"Jose [Calderon] shares the ball extremely well," Triano said. "Then when [Marco] Belinelli comes in, he does the same thing. So does Jarrett Jack."
Triano's second-favorite five-man unit includes both Calderon and Jack (both point guards), along with Turkoglu (who can be fairly characterized as a point forward). The offensive rating of that unit?
128.2 points per 100 possessions.
But herein lies the problem for the 5-4 Raptors. That same unit, offensive juggernaut that is, allows 136.8 points per 100 possessions. That's 2005-06 Seattle Supersonics bad.
After answering a question about his team's offensive prowess during his pre-game media availability Friday night in Los Angeles, Triano was then asked about his team's defensive struggles.
His tongue-in-cheek response? A repetition of his previous answer:
"We have a lot of guys who can make plays for one another," Triano joked.
Everyone had a good chuckle, but the Raps' defensive woes are no laughing matter.
"They're reading and reacting [on defense] rather than it becoming instinctive," Triano explained. "We're just a step slow right now. We've got guys holding inside a little bit and not spreading out of coverages. But it's a work in progress."
The Raptors currently rank 29th in defensive efficiency. Average those offensive and defensive ratings out and you've got a .500 ball club. But if Toronto can take a page from the old Phoenix Suns playbook and scoot that ranking up to the middle of the pack, they're likely to be a very interesting team after the All-Star break.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
- The Blazers have found an individual to accept their money. The Sixers drafted Jrue Holiday out of UCLA, but will clearly need to fortify things at the point.
- Will Big Ben return to Detroit and retire as a Piston?
- Third Quarter Collapse notes that Matt Barnes listed Stan Van Gundy as one of the primary reasons he chose Orlando: "Are you hearing this? Are you believing this? Van Gundy, the man whom some Magic fans wanted fired after his team blew a 14-point, 4th-quarter lead to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, is now almost a big a draw for free-agents as Dwight freakin' Howard is." Whatever unfair stigma Van Gundy carried into the late spring, it's fair to say that label has expired. As Ben Q. Rock states in the post, Van Gundy has joined the ranks of elite coaches, and a difference-maker for guys exploring their options around the league.
- Nets owner Bruce Ratner -- now accepting investors. Dave D'Alessandro of the Newark Star-Ledger says that if and when a suitor legitimately emerges, the team is likely Brooklyn-bound: "So far, nobody's buying. But according to numerous officials throughout the organization, Ratner may soon find someone to help alleviate the team's crushing debt load and facilitate the construction of the Atlantic Yards project, and the candidates range from the former CEO of Yahoo to a billionaire industrialist from Russia -- each of whom would still move the team from New Jersey."
- Zach Randolph says that the Grizzlies are "embracing me like no other team had." I can't decide if this says more about Randolph or the Grizzlies.
- Tim Donahue of Eight Points, Nine Seconds on the Pacers finally extricating themselves from Jamaal Tinsley, and turning the page on a rough patch in the franchise's history: "There is a sense of overwhelming relief flowing throughout the Pacer faithful. With Jamaal's departure, the team is rid of the last of the players identified with the utter embarrassment that has befallen this franchise in the five years since the infamous Malice in the Palace in November 2004."
- Basketball Reference has added transactions to each player's page. Hooray! No confirmation as to whether Tony Massenburg's page required BBR to acquire additional server space.
- Rajon Rondo's jumper: Not improving. The silver lining, according to Zach Lowe, is that Js represent a smaller slice of Rondo's overall shot selection.
- Smart post by Zarar Siddiqi of Raptors Republic on Toronto's point guard platoon of Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack.
- If you're keeping score at home, Basketbawful's epic Livin' Large series has a new flow chart.
- Video from day one of USA Basketball mini-camp [Hat Tip: Brandon Hoffman]
- First Blake Griffin strains his shoulder, and then he gets his first lesson in Los Angeles parking lot etiquette: "Don't u hate when ur waitin for someone to pull out of a parking spot and someone else comes and takes it? That just happened to me!"
Are you better off keeping your second banana than trading for more talent? Can Kirk Hinrich accept playing second fiddle to Derrick Rose? How will Shawn Marion's 2008-09 second act in Toronto fare? Seconds for everyone at the TrueHoop Network.
M. Haubs of The Painted Area: "In addition to this kind of 'little-picture' unselfishness, it's crucial to keep 'big-picture' unselfishness in mind when building an NBA team as well, the delicate balance of getting guys to accept a team's pecking order.
Our favorite example of this, which we've written about before, is how the Pistons were considering trading Joe Dumars prior to their championship run, possibly for more talent, but owner Bill Davidson persuasively argued against by saying something to the effect of 'You'll never find a better player who's willing to sit second chair to Isiah.'
It's what we see now in L.A. with Lamar Odom accepting a bench role in a free-agent year. It's what we've seen for years in S.A. with Manu Ginobili accepting fewer minutes even though it keeps his stats low and probably costs him All-Star appearances.
It's what makes me wonder if we'd have a different perception of KG and Kevin McHale and the Minnesota Timberwolves of the last decade if Stephon Marbury had simply been the type of player to accept playing second fiddle.
It's what makes me realize that the Portland Trail Blazers, even with all of their assets, have a big challenge as they make moves going forward, just because they have such a nice ego balance with Roy, Oden, and Aldridge all seemingly to coexist peacefully no matter the relative attention one or the other might get. This especially applies to B-Roy, who handled the initially Oden hoopla so gracefully, even though he had already established himself as a young star."
Arsenalist of Raptors Republic: "As unlikely as a playoff spot is, I'm still looking forward to this bunch at least try and make a push to prove that they're more than a collection of overrated misfits and underachievers. The trade has breathed a little purpose into the season and I felt that as I made the brisk walk over to Philthy's to catch yet another game on TSN2. Going up against Cleveland sans Chris Bosh and having two new players is an impossible challenge so all you really looked for in this game is some signs of whether this group could seriously pose a threat to anyone but my blood pressure. Results were leaning towards the negative...
Marion last night showed what he could possibly do for us. His defense on Lebron was good enough to force him into low-percentage shots, he got a steal off a front on Ilgauskas (no easy task) and took his man off the dribble for a couple scores. He made some good entry-passes (that's a big deal for us) and executed a jump-hook in the low-block, which I think will be his primary means of scoring. If we can get him into the post through a slip-screen he has the leaping and finishing ability to be a scoring threat. He looked lost at times, for example on one play Calderon used the high-screen and Marion sealed his man off so Jose could continue with his drive but instead he pulled up. Marion didn't get why he did that and took the rest of the possession off by standing in the corner. All in all a decent game considering he's guarding Lebron James - 10 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks...
A note about up-tempo play. If Shawn Marion thinks we'll be playing up-tempo ball in Toronto I hate to disappoint him. As I see it there are two problems. Firstly, you need the ball to run and we don't have the rebounding to facilitate early break opportunities. Secondly, no team will ever be able to run 'n gun with Jose Calderon at the point. He simply does not have the court-vision, blow-by speed and pushing mentality that is needed for that style..."
Matt McHale of By the Horns: "If this was Kirk's swan song as a Bull, it was a pretty good one. For my part, I don't want him to go. The Bulls have been a better team with him than without him this season. He's the perfect safety net to have under Derrick Rose, who still makes his share of rookie mistakes (particularly on the defensive end). I know conventional wisdom says Hinrich's contract is greater than his worth as a basketball player, but I'm not sure I agree with that. Remember, it wasn't even two full seasons ago that he was being touted as the next John Stockton. And while that was a gross overestimation, I'd say he still has value, more to the Bulls, maybe, than to anybody else. I hope we hold onto him."
THE FINAL WORD
Hardwood Paroxysm: Great moments in trade deadline history.
Celtics Hub: This year's Celts vs. Last year's Celts
Queen City Hoops: When 41% from the field isn't as bad it sounds.
(Photos by Sam Forencich, Ron Turenne, Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
In the current HOOP magazine, Jeramie McPeek grills Jose Calderon about all kinds of things in a free-ranging conversation. We learn that not only does the Raptor point guard have the NBA's finest free throw percentage, but he also has its best custom ham:
The Raptors' Media Guide says you own a pig farm. Is that true?
Well, kind of. It's not like I have it all by myself, but yeah, we sell the ham there in Spain and I've tried to get it here to Canada, too.
Ah, okay. We thought you had a bunch of pigs for pets or something.
No, no. It's just for my business, that's it. They're really nice animals sometimes, but it's not like I have pigs because I like them.
How did you get into that? That's an unusual business.
Not really in Spain. Where I'm from is where the best ham is. I thought it would be a good thing to bring the ham here to Canada and to the U.S.
What's different about the ham in Spain?
Well, the pigs there only eat walnuts, so everything is organic. It's much better.
Is Manu Ginobili past his prime? Is Josh Smith a prime time contributor? The TrueHoop Network pursues some prime targets:
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "All season long Spurs fans have been dealing with the anxiety-inducing idea that Manu Ginobili may no longer be, well, Manu Ginobili. That some nefarious combination of injury and age has left him in a place where we will never see the same intense and productive play night-in-night-out. These concerns have continually floated to the surface in comment threads here at 48 Minutes of Hell but we have yet to directly address the issue.
So first and foremost, has Manu lost a step? Well, yes and no. In some ways he may never be as recklessly physical as he once was. His deceptive explosiveness will never be at 2005 levels. Even last year, his craftiness increasingly supplanted what his underappreciated athleticism had previously provided.
But, I don't believe Manu is yet at 100%. My primary reason for this is the limited minutes he is still seeing, even at this stage in the season. While Duncan, Mason, Bonner, and Parker are consistently seeing 30+ minute nights, Manu remains squarely in the 20-25 minute range (upper 20s when the game is really tight). His being a sixth man has never stopped him from having starter minutes; we all know he isn't just any old bench player. So if someone looks at how Manu has played so far this season and earnestly says "he's lost a step,” in some sense they are wrong. Manu will be playing at a higher level come April and May.
Still, if Manu is truly past his prime, is it time to consider involving him a blockbuster trade (although not an illegitimate question, the mere mention of the idea seems almost heretical)? He is the most moveable member of the big three and could be the key to adding a currently unidentified building block for a new generation of title-contending teams."
Bret LaGree of Hoopinion: "Josh Smith gave us the full spectrum last night: 12 rebounds (5 offensive), 4 steals, 2 blocks, 26 points, and some terrible decisions. Smith opened the night by making three of five jump shots in the first 6:13. Rather than count his blessings that his poor shot selection didn't hurt the team, Smith took five more jump shots before the game ended, making just one more. In terms of field goal percentage, that's an above average jump shooting night for Josh Smith. That he took ten jump shots on a night when he was primarily guarded by Al Harrington is troubling. That he continued to take and miss jump shots on a night he was also missing 8 of 10 free throw attempts stretches one's credulity. Though not as much as his now-constant whining. One of Nate Robinson's fourth quarter threes came as a direct result of nine out of ten players on the court continuing to play basketball while Josh Smith chose to spend the possession in the backcourt telling an official he thought Al Harrington traveled while corralling a defensive rebound. The Hawks couldn't guard the Knicks in the second half when they were five-on-five. That four-on-five possession transformed the situation from incompetence to negligence."
Arsenalist of Raptors Republic: "Devin Harris' questionable decision to let the clock run down so he could take the final shot of the game worked in our favor. When he broke Joey Graham to create 8 feet of shooting space and rose for that jumper a feeling of nausea came over me. At that moment the only thing to be grateful for was that it wasn't Vince taking the shot because you know he would've drained it. Time expired as Harris missed and the prevalent feeling amongst every Raptor fan wasn't of joy but of relief. The Nets went on a 16-5 run to end the game as the Raptors saw their well-deserved 11 point lead whittled down to one thanks to some very shaky offense late in the fourth. In the end the Raptors' blistering 56% shooting and Jose Calderon's intelligent PG play was too much to overcome for the defensively listless Nets. The Raptors weren't much better, we allowed enough drive 'n kick scores to make your stomach queasy but when you shot that high of a percentage, basketball becomes a forgiving game."
THE FINAL WORD
Valley of the Suns: Bring back Iavaroni.
Hardwood Paroxysm: In Memoriam, John Updike.
Forum Blue & Gold: The Lakers-Bobcats finish, revisited.
(Photos by Ronald Martinez, David Dow, Jeff Zelevansky/NBAE via Getty Images)
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
- The Painted Area's travelogue from Dallas is chock full of good stuff -- Texas' best taco stands, a trip to American Airlines arena, shopping for used books in a converted opera house, and a close examination of both O.J. Mayo's game...and the Dancin' Dirk doll.
- FreeDarko hopes that the dawn of a new political era means that basketball will be seen through a softer lens: " The world is ready for a more nuanced view of the game, one where Cleveland's ascendance doesn't take anything away from what Boston and LA have going on, where the Hawks can be both up-and-coming and taken seriously at the same time, and where Devin Harris doesn't need a counterpoint in Paul, Williams, or anyone else to be understood and appreciated."
- Peachtree Hoops reminds us that just because a game features a lot of possessions doesn't mean it's "up-tempo": "Helped by all the loose ball fouls following missed Pacers shots, the third quarter had 26 possessions for each team. That's more possessions than any other quarter but I wouldn't call it an up-tempo quarter of basketball. Conversely, the fourth quarter, which certainly featured a lot of half-court basketball but despite that (and following the third quarter) felt like it was played at a higher tempo than the third featured just 20 possessions for each time."
- Brew Hoop has a nickname for Luc Mbah a Moute: "Luc really has a smooth, soothing effect on both ends of the court. Tonight he ignited the Aussie, who dunked early and dunked late. Call him the Principal, because he's royalty, and he's in command."
- For 48 Minutes of Hell, the Spurs' loss to the Bucks was a flashpoint: "[C]urrently, this is a mediocre basketball team. Honestly, I don't think they are as good as their 20-11 record suggests. Of their 31 games, 5 victories are by 3 point's or less, two of which were on final, have as much validity as a coin flip, shots. The Spurs have won a remarkable three games by way of double overtime. They've beat Dallas, Denver, Houston, Utah, and Phoenix, but those teams were at varying degrees of strength. They're yet to beat an elite team."
- Rob Mahoney on the Thunder's Nenad Krstic pickup: "Pretty sweet pick-up for the Thunder, though. The team has been ridiculously competitive this season in relation to their laughable record; it seems as though every time I tune in or check a mid-game box score, they're nursing a tiny lead or facing a manageable deficit. The issue isn't one of effort, and you'd know as much if you watch the Thunder regularly (the few, the proud). There just isn't enough talent on the roster for the bunch to be a good team, and Krstic certainly helps there. Dude can play, though he's certainly not without his flaws. His presence suddenly makes Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith's expiring deals just that much more expendable, and one can only hope that OKC will get back prospects or picks in return."
- Khandor's Sports Blog says that Jose Calderon gets an unfair rap for his defense and is "far from being an atrocious defender at the PG position in the NBA." Khandor ranks the defense of all 30 NBA starting point guards. According to Khandor, there's actually a worse defender at the position than Luke Ridnour.
- Brett Pollakoff at NBA Fanhouse offers us a sneak peek at the 2009 All-Star jerseys and wonders, "[W]hat is it about the Phoenix game that brings out the worst in the people that design the uniforms? Remember the purple monstrosities from the 1995 game with the big cactus on the front? Sure you do."
- Hornets247 on New Orleans trying to integrate Peja Stojakovic back into the offense: "The Hornets were force-feeding Peja looks from deep all night. It was probably a good game to try it, since we were up against the lowly Wizards, and they ran double screens, down screens, cross screens and simple pick and pops for open threes for Peja. He only managed to hit one of the nine open looks he got. Come back to us, Peja."
Big contracts, NBA stars, a new coach, a new approach, and -- after a disappointing loss in a recent major international competition -- something to prove.
More than anything, almost being able to taste Olympic gold, knowing that hitting shots and playing good defense will be enough.
No, I'm not talking about Team USA.
I'm talking about the squad they'll meet on the court in Beijing at 10:15 ET Saturday morning, and likely in the gold medal game on August 24.
I'm talking about Spain.
U.S. in the Driver's Seat
After dispensing China, Angola, and Greece, the United States team led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant has convinced nearly all observers that they are the favorites to win Olympic gold. Team USA's impressive depth, matched with a withering defensive attack on the perimeter, has produced long series of turnovers followed by the kinds of open-court layups and dunks that posters are made of.
But the Spanish team is also deep, also stocked with NBA players, and on something of a special mission.
The Spanish players are reigning world champions. To most of the basketball world, this is a more prestigious title than Olympic gold. The 2006 version featured 24 teams, with a grueling 16-team elimination tournament to wrap things up. (The Olympic competition, on the other hand, features 12 total teams, with eight making it to the knockout stage.)
Spain has also played the U.S. in elimination games twice in recent years. Many of these same Spanish players beat Paul Pierce and company at the World Championships in 2002. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Spain cruised through qualifying for a top seed, while Team USA stumbled to 3-2. With a high seed, Spain met Team U.S.A. in the first elimination game, and lost by eight. (In the next round, Team USA lost to Argentina, before beating Lithuania for bronze.)
Spain and the U.S. did not play each other in the 2006 World Championships, as the U.S. lost to Greece in the semifinals. Spain, with much the same roster they have this year, did not lose all tournament long.
Last summer, however, in one of the best games of last year, Spain lost to Russia by a single point in the EuroBasket final.
These Olympics are Spain's chance to prove 2006 was no fluke.
The roster of the Spanish national team has been one of the most stable in basketball. The team has long been built around the likes of Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa.
In 2008, however, time is showing its effects. Youngsters like Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, and Marc Gasol are emerging as the rightful future centerpieces of the team.
How long will the more experienced players like Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro keep sacrificing their off-seasons for their country? It is unclear. It's certainly possible this team will look very different next time around.
Spain is an elite international team as is. Will it be so for the World Championships in Turkey in 2010? Maybe.
For a team that has always had high expectations, 2008 is time to seize the moment.
New Coach, New Approach
When Spain won the World Championships in Japan two summers ago, the offensive attack was built around now-Laker big man Pau Gasol. Time and again Gasol set up in the post, and used his grab bag of post moves and jumpers to poke and prod the defense as his teammates orchestrated series of dives, picks, and cuts to get themselves clean looks whenever Gasol was doubled.
The team used the same approach, and the same roster, in 2007, when they lost a close game to underdog Russia in the final game of the EuroBasket.
A month and a half ago, however (reportedly owing to internal politics in the federation that runs the team) Coach Pepu Hernandez was replaced by Aito Garcia Reneses.
Aito, as he is known, has a vastly different approach that wholly deemphasizes any single player's role.
Jorge Munoa, a journalist with the EFE wire service, has been covering the team closely for years. Having watched Spain's early games of the tournament I asked him if the team perceived what I felt I had seen, namely the emergence of young swingman Rudy Fernandez (headed to the Blazers next season) as the kind of leader the team turned to when things get rough.
An emerging force: Future Blazer Rudy Fernandez has excelled in big moments.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images.)
"Absolutely not," he declared. "There are no leaders on this team. The leader is just a group. That is the key to this team. The group. There are no personal agendas or characteristics that are more important than the group."
That's pure Aito.
He is no control freak. He has a fairly loose hand in terms of style of play. On offense, the guards have the latitude to be as inventive as they'd like, and NBA-style isolations and shots off the dribble are no longer uncommon.
But no one gets to dominate. Of the team's dozen players, eleven average at least eleven minutes per game, and none averages more than 26. Six players, this far, have scored at least six points per game, and none average more than twenty.
The stars of the national team's recent past, for instance Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro, often watch from the bench as younger teammates like Pau's brother Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez mop up key minutes -- thus far without complaint.
There is a particular karma to that. Both Navarro and Gasol played for Aito at FC Barcelona. As young players, they benefited from the same unorthodox distribution of minutes, playing far more than they might have on other teams. Aito later coached Badalona, where he similarly gave minutes to rising national team stars Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio.
What You Can Expect Against Team U.S.A.
When Spain plays the U.S. on Saturday, in group play with little at stake, Spain will be unlikely to display its full bag of tricks.
Making certain no one gets hurt will be the most important priority for both teams -- both are undefeated in the early rounds and have no worries about making it to the next stage.
However, removing the cloak of invincibility from the U.S. team could be a handy achievement leading into a potential rematch in the gold medal game.
In addition, the Spanish team is adjusting to a new coach, and a big win would do wonders to build the unit's confidence in the system.
Against the U.S., Aito's approach could have several effects.
Turning Superstars into Jump-Shooters
One of the things the U.S. players know less about -- and have had to work on in training -- is beating a zone defense. In recent years, Team USA's opponents -- from Greece last summer to Angola a few days ago -- frustrated the U.S. into scoring droughts with an extremely active zone.
Zones typically make it hard to get to the rim, resulting in more long shots. After three games, the U.S. has the worst three-point shooting percentage of any team -- men's or women's -- in Beijing.
The U.S. roster is also famously thin in the middle. Dwight Howard as the lone burly big man. The Americans certainly have the multi-faceted advantages that come with an endless supply of supersta
r wing players. But they have also faced stretches of games launching errant long balls, while also lack a dominant physical presence in the paint. In general, in basketball, that's a dangerous combination.
To negate those potential weaknesses, the U.S. has been killing opponents with speed.
By having five fresh players on the floor at all times, Spain hopes to be able to get back on defense and slow the American offense.
"With the short minutes," explains Munoa, "everyone should be fresh. Lots of zone defense, with high intensity, and a lot of activity."
Working the Referees
The Spanish team has a history of using theatrics to get the most out of the referees, and would love to see Dwight Howard get into early foul trouble -- which can happen quickly in a system where a player is ejected after just five, instead of the NBA's six, fouls.
Meanwhile, the short minutes the Spanish team players are playing almost guarantee no Spanish players will see foul trouble at all. Thus far, only one player, young guard Ricky Rubio, is averaging even three fouls per game.
One very effective method of pressuring the U.S. big men into fouls is Spain's honed ability to get big men like Pau, and especially his younger brother Marc (soon to join the Memphis Grizzlies), the ball on the move towards the hoop.
Future Grizzlie Marc Gasol is young, big, and active.
(Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)
Thus far in the tournament, Marc Gasol has proved to be very deft at using his large frame to set high screens.
What happens next varies from play to play. Sometimes the ball handler uses the space the screen has afforded them to create their own shot.
Sometimes Gasol "slips" to the hoop, in essence faking that he will set up the screen, to get the defense fixated on the ball handler, before diving to the hoop to create a scoring opportunity for himself.
Many other times he sets the pick and then "rolls" quickly to the rim.
It's all standard basketball, but it's a play the U.S. famously had trouble defending against Greece in a loss at the 2006 World Championships. And in the case of Marc Gasol, it results in a very large, aggressive, and skilled big man headed to the hoop.
That's a big dare to Dwight Howard to recover and protect the rim, and those kinds of challenges often result in fouls on the defender.
Handling the Pressure
In the end, the story of any Team USA game this year will likely be how opponents handle the generous amounts of on-ball pressure Team USA delivers.
In 120 minutes of tournament play, the U.S. has forced a remarkable 68 turnovers. Opponents trying to pass over, dribble near, or sneak past the Team USA have been robbed again and again by an impressively hyperactive NBA defense, that is, like Spain, fueled by a deep bench and short minutes.
Most of Spain's ballhandling falls to Raptor point guard Jose Calderon, whose turnover rate is among the lowest in NBA history. But while Calderon may be unlikely to cough the ball up much, one ball handler can not defeat a tough five-player defensive strategy. Other Spanish players will handle the ball plenty. Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez have each been coughing the ball up, against much weaker competition, more than once for every ten minutes they play, and Juan Carlos Navarro, Calderon, and Pau Gasol are not far behind.
If the U.S. can keep creating turnovers at a high rate, it will be nearly impossible for them to lose. Not only do turnovers tend to lead to fast breaks, but they also keep Spain from opportunities to really test America's pick-and-roll defense, get Dwight Howard in foul trouble, and get to the line.
On the other hand, if Spain can hang onto the ball, and if its many talented offensive players get an opportunity to ply their trade, don't be at all surprised if Spain makes the U.S. sweat.
Early this morning, through my agents, I reached a preliminary agreement with the Toronto Raptors. I want to thank Bryan Colangelo, Maurizio Gherardini, Sam Mitchell and all of the Raptors family for the confidence that they have placed in me. I am sure that together we are going to achieve big things in the future.
It's no real surprise, but nonetheless I'm sure Raptor fans are breathing a little easier.
Also, I salute the Raptors for making a tough decision. They had two point guards who could really play, and no way to get the most out of both of them. So they swallowed hard, made their pick, and set a new course.
Jose Calderon announced that he had accepted an offer from the Raptors on his website earlier Tuesday. The deal will likely keep him in Toronto for the next five years NBA teams are prevented from commenting on pending free agent signings until July 9th, but a team source confirmed that the framework of a deal was in place.