TrueHoop: Kevin Martin

The book on Rick Adelman

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
7:40
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Rick Adelman
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesRick Adelman: The quiet innovator

Name: Rick Adelman

Birthdate: June 16, 1946

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
A tactician whose schemes have influenced coaches at every level of competitive basketball. When Adelman wants to motivate a player or address a potential conflict, he’s far more likely to sidle up next to the guy at a shootaround or at practice for a quick conversation than make a fuss. Adelman is not a consoler, pep squad leader or speechmaker. His dominant message? Practice is tomorrow at 11. For players who prefer more communication or need hand-holding, this can be difficult, but Adelman has a knack for maintaining harmony.

Is he intense or a go-along-get-along type?
He has the unique ability to manage diverse personalities with his even temperament. Clyde Drexler clashed with an intense Mike Schuler during his early years in Portland, but when Adelman took over, Drexler was on the same page as his new coach from the outset. Adelman errs on the side of less practice, not more, and is constantly mindful of whether his players are in a good place, and that basketball isn’t becoming a chore to them. He isn’t inclined to develop deep relationships with players, but they’re confident he won’t play favorites and won’t call them out in a group setting. Adelman is a quiet teacher, a stoic and somewhat of an introvert, which is a rarity in this profession. On the road, he’s more likely to spend a night in than go out to a dinner where basketball might be the leading topic of conversation. He requires time to recharge.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
Although his schemes offer a fair amount of flexibility, Adelman certainly falls on the system end of the spectrum. He wants the game played a certain way, something expressed in his corner sets that have been replicated a million times over in the league. A few NBA teams actually refer to these play calls as “SAC” (as in Sacramento), where Adelman refined his offensive approach. While the principles of Adelman’s offense remain the same -- all five players engaged, move the ball quickly, remain aggressive as you read and react -- he will adjust and modify the primary options to accommodate different skill sets. The best example would be Yao Ming, who needed to be fed the ball in places on the floor that, in most circumstances, Adelman would prefer vacant.

Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he The Decider?
Adelman believes that a player who buys into the program is entitled to a piece of the enterprise. He doesn’t preside over a dictatorship, but most of all, he pre-empts any conflict by making decisions his players can get behind. His system also entrusts players to make decisions and unleash their creativity.


Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
He has an affection for high-IQ scorers -- Peja Stojakovic, Kevin Martin, Mike Bibby, even Von Wafer. Under Adelman in Houston, Aaron Brooks got the bulk of the minutes over Kyle Lowry at the point until Brooks went down with an ankle injury in Adelman’s final season with the organization.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
A set rotation works best for Adelman, who wants to avoid making waves that might divert the focus of the team away from what’s happening on the court. When Adelman assigns someone to the starting lineup, he’ll exercise patience with that player.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use his veterans?
Young players, especially those who can score, get plenty of opportunities under Adelman. He took immediately to Cliff Robinson in Portland when the Trail Blazers were among the elite. Rookie Jason Williams led the Kings in minutes during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Houston was largely a veteran outfit during Adelman’s tenure. Minnesota has been a MASH unit -- any healthy body will do.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
Adelman isn’t looking for one specific shot in a possession. He imagines a range of positive outcomes and has created a framework for achieving one of those objectives, which we know generally as the corner offense.

The corner isn’t so much a system of play calls as it is a systematic way to promote ball and player movement through smart reads. Multiple players are involved in just about every possession, which keeps offenses humming and players happy.

At its most basic, a corner set will feature three players on the strong side -- at the wing, corner and a big man at the elbow who has the instincts and skills to facilitate offense on the fly, players such as Chris Webber, Vlade Divac or Brad Miller. Offensive players size up the defense, then choose an action that best exploits what the defense surrenders.

In short, read and react.

For instance, a dribble handoff is a popular option within the corner. A wing who can capably read a defense will play out the sequence based on what the defense affords him. If his defender is trying to deny the handoff by hugging him tightly, he can slip back door. If the defender goes under the big man, the wing can stop and pop. If the defender is trailing, then take the ball and penetrate, draw contact or, if help comes from the weak side to collapse, make a pass to a shooter in the corner (Stojakovic and Shane Battier were frequent beneficiaries). Of course, the big man can always fake the handoff and, if his defender bites, turn around and shoot an open jumper. While all this is going on, the weakside big might give his weakside small a down screen. This gives the corner crew another option -- a shooter popping out to the perimeter.

A lot of cool stuff can materialize with the corner, and most playbooks around the league include a couple of “C-sets” with multiple triggers. Ultimately, the collective instincts of the five-man unit drive the offense, and each player on the floor is empowered to do something over the course of the possession to test the defense and keep it guessing. The ball moves and, when run correctly, the offense never starts and rarely finishes with isolation basketball. The corner doesn’t offer the level of structure found in the Triangle or the continuity offense in San Antonio, but it’s easier to pick up and allows players to be a bit more creative -- which can be both an asset and a drawback.

What were his characteristics as a player?
A standout at Loyola Marymount, Adelman was a 6-foot-1 point guard without much of an outside shot and zero speed. But he could defend in the half court, move the ball to the scorers and make a pass on the move. He was chosen by the San Diego Rockets in the seventh round of the 1968 draft, and wore a hockey mask for the first couple of months of his NBA career after breaking his jaw in a preseason game. That Rockets team included Pat Riley. Two years later, Adelman became a charter member of the expansion Portland Trail Blazers team.

Which coaches did he play for?
His first NBA coach was Jack McMahon, regarded as a players’ coach. He also played for Rolland Todd, Stu Inman and Jack McCloskey, all of whom lost a lot of games. Adelman then moved to Chicago, where he played for Dick Motta, before moving on to New Orleans, where he played for the nomadic, fiery, profane Butch van Breda Kolff, then finished his career with the Kings and Phil Johnson.

What is his coaching pedigree?
Adelman got his start at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon, where coaching basketball was just one part of the gig. The position was actually the province of the college’s counseling department and Adelman’s other responsibilities included educating high school kids about the junior college system. Adelman’s big break came in 1983, when he got a phone call from Dr. Jack Ramsay asking him to join the Trail Blazers’ coaching staff. Ramsay’s “turnout” offense, with its continuity, multiple screens, cuts and quick passing, was foundational for Adelman, and Ramsay is very much the spiritual godfather for much of what Adelman has developed as an offensive practitioner. After Ramsay’s departure from Portland, Adelman stayed on under Schuler, then took over the head job when Schuler was let go in February 1989.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
A lover of history who appreciates time to contemplate, Adelman would be on the faculty of a junior college in California or Oregon.

Thunder at Clippers: 5 things we saw

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
2:35
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Durant Harry How/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant took over the game with a 24-point second half against the Clippers.

Kevin Durant at the top of his game
There isn’t enough length, ball pressure, traps, help or divine intervention to stop a run like Kevin Durant put together down the stretch on Tuesday night. The All-Star forward scored 32 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the field in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 109-97 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

"When a guy is nearly 7-feet tall with a crossover like Jamal [Crawford's], it's going to be tough," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said of Durant's performance.

Durant can hit from anywhere, but he loves nothing more than to work from the top of the floor, which makes the game a living hell for the defense. It would be hard enough to defend Durant in a utility closet, but when he has the ball way up top with the floor spread, help defense becomes treacherous because the opposition is stretched from sideline to sideline -- which is how something like this happens.

In addition to the firestorm he started in the fourth quarter, Durant also racked up seven assists. Driving down the gut of the lane, Durant hit Thabo Sefolosha for a couple of corner 3-pointers and found Serge Ibaka for a 3-pointer and another baseline jumper. He also found Ibaka on a basket cut from that perch. The more Durant built his nest at that spot, the more you’re going to his assist rate soar as it’s doing this season.

Life without Chris Paul
It’s not that the Clippers can’t find shots without Paul, but, organizationally speaking, things don’t run as smoothly. Because there isn’t a tried-and-true system in Los Angeles, Paul is essentially the on-the-spot play designer for the team. After the game, Clippers forward Blake Griffin described how the game is harder for the Clippers when Paul isn’t out there.

“[Paul] controls the game,” Griffin said. “He’s calling plays. He’s making sure guys are in the right spots. He’s always thinking and always talking. When he’s out there, he’s your guy you always look to see what we’re in, or what we’re doing or what we’re trying to do.”

Blake Griffin's big night
"We really don't double," Thunder coach Scott Brooks when asked why his team chose not to send extra defenders at Griffin, who finished with 31 points, hitting 11 of his 19 field goal attempts. Griffin had to dig hard for those 11 field goals, as he had to wrestle with Ibaka for position down low. Meanwhile, the Thunder weren't allowing Caron Butler and other Clipper wings to set that cross-screen to free up Griffin to catch the entry pass from the wing, then quickly storm the basket.

Still, Griffin had a tremendous outing on a night when he had to dig for every inch of space on the right block and contend with Ibaka's combination of length and savvy as a defender. The driving spin move was in full effect, as was the fadeaway baseline jumper.

"He had a great game," Brooks said. "He's one of the strongest, quickest athletic guys. He's an awkward scorer. You don't think he's going to jump, but then he jumps, or he jumps off the wrong leg. He just has a knack. He's an amazing player."

Kevin Martin making good
In 61 seconds of court time spanning the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, Martin drained three 3-pointers to turn a six-point Thunder deficit into a one-point lead that the Thunder would never relinquish.

How did Martin get those looks? The first came on a double-single, with Martin looping counterclockwise around his teammates from the top of the floor to the left sideline. The second occurred when Martin found an open lot along the arc after DeAndre Liggins collected a long offensive rebound. The third was more familiar, something we might have seen while Martin was playing in Rick Adelman’s corner offense -- a little set with Nick Collision situated off the left elbow with Martin swinging around from the top to collect a handoff, then shoot from beyond the arc.

“We still put in a little corner action, having me play off Nick Collison in the high post just like Brad Miller,” Martin said. “But you have to do more than one thing. You have to be able to take people off the dribble, come off screens, read, iso. Here, with the second unit I have to be more of a scorer. Then, when I’m out there with [the starters], I can be how I was in Sacramento when I played with Mike Bibby and [Chris Webber], just roam and get open jump shots.”

We don’t immediately think of Martin as a versatile player, but he’s demonstrating in Oklahoma City how many ways he can hurt defenses with different actions and approaches.

Eric Bledsoe, starting point guard
The common knock on Bledsoe is that the third-year guard isn't fully verse in running an NBA offense. It’s one thing to lead the storm-troopers in the Clippers’ second team, but quite another to orchestrate the team’s more studied starting unit. Contra those skeptics, Bledsoe filled in nicely for Paul during the Clippers’ 3-0 road trip last week, but there were moments on Tuesday night when, as the Clippers’ starting point guard, he got out over his skis.

The Clippers tried to make life easy for Bledsoe by running a series of elbow sets in which Bledsoe fed Griffin in the high post then cleared. They also called for a steady stream of pick-and-rolls for Bledsoe and Griffin. Too often, Bledsoe missed the angle on an entry pass, or held the ball a moment too long while the offense ground to a halt. As a result, Bledsoe, a 26 percent shooter from 16-to-23 feet, launched five shots from that range in the game’s first nine minutes. On the Clippers’ first possession of the second half, Bledsoe fired up another 22-footer indiscriminately when he couldn’t find an immediate alternative.

Bledsoe still had his moments -- a block on Nick Collison, timely cuts to the basket, vicious ball pressure on Westbrook and a couple of unseemly offensive rebounds out of nowhere. But he’s just beginning to grasp that delicate balance between patience and aggression that Paul understands better than any point guard in the game.

Wednesday Bullets

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
5:22
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • 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.

Shooting Stars: Parker, Martin, George

November, 22, 2012
11/22/12
1:25
AM ET
By Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Shining a quick spotlight on three of the key players in Wednesday night's wins.
Tony Parker, Spurs
One of the keys to success for the San Antonio Spurs in their win over the Boston Celtics was Tony Parker's ability to get to the basket.

The Spurs won for the 13th time in their last 15 games in Boston, with Parker going 12-for-17 from the floor. He was 4-for-5 in the paint in the first quarter and 3-for-4 in the paint in the fourth quarter.

Parker entered the night 39-for-86 on his paint-based shot attempts this season, including 12-for-29 in his previous three games.


Kevin Martin, Thunder
Earlier Wednesday, we told you that Kevin Martin was the NBA’s most efficient scorer so far this season.

That continued with his 20-point effort off the bench in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Martin made three shots on four attempts in the paint and made three more 3-pointers.

Note those two three-pointers that came from straight-on. Martin is 9-for-17 on shots from that area this season.

Maintaining anything close to that rate of success would be a huge improvement from last season, when he was 25-for-77 (32 percent) on 3-pointers from that part of the court.


Paul George, Pacers
The surprise star of the night was Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, who teamed with Roy Hibbert on a record-setting night in a win over the New Orleans Hornets.

Hibbert set the team single-game mark for blocked shots with 11 and George broke Reggie Miller's record for 3-pointers in a game with nine.

George was 5-for-6 on his 3-pointers from the right sideline and corner. He had made only seven 3-pointers in 18 tries from that area in his previous 12 games this season.

Kevin Martin is super efficient

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
11:29
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Martin’s offensive efficiency this season is off the charts.
Kevin Martin has been the most efficient scorer in the NBA this season. Martin leads the league in points per play of the 137 players with at least 100 plays, according to Synergy Sports.

Another way to prove Martin has been the most efficient scorer in the NBA this season is his true shooting percentage, a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-pointers and free throws. In that regard, Martin ranks first in the league among players with at least 250 minutes.

WHY HAS MARTIN BEEN SO EFFICIENT?

He doesn’t have to create his own offense as often this season.

Martin is playing off the ball more this season alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as compared to last season when he had the ball in his hands more often. His usage percentage -– an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he’s on the floor -- is 22.3, his lowest since 2005-06, his sophomore campaign with the Sacramento Kings.

Martin is second in the NBA this season in catch-and-shoot points (behind O.J. Mayo). He’s shooting 52.1 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers and has a 75 effective field-goal percentage on those shots.

Now that he isn’t the focal point of his team’s offense, Martin is able to let his offense come to him. As a result, his shooting numbers have blossomed in Oklahoma City.

In 2011-12, Martin shot just 34.9 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, which ranked 134th of the 175 players with at least 100 catch-and-shoot jumpers. Catch-and-shoot accounted for 37.5 percent of his jump shots last season, while it accounts for 51.1 percent this season.

Need more evidence that Martin isn’t nearly as ball-dominant anymore? This season, 31.4 percent of his plays are spot-up, as compared to 19.3 percent last season. Isolation accounted for 22.4 percent of his plays last season, while that number is down to 17.9 percent this season.

THUNDER ARE BETTER WITH MARTIN

The Thunder have been a much better team with Martin on the court. They're scoring 19.9 more points per 48 minutes than they are with Martin on the bench. They're shooting better, especially from beyond the arc, and getting to the free-throw line more than twice as often with Martin on the floor.

How impressive is Martin’s season thus far? Let’s put it in perspective:

• Only one player in NBA history has had a true shooting percentage higher than Martin’s current 70.2 percentage (Tyson Chandler – 70.8 last season).

• Martin currently averages 17.6 points per game with a 48.7 field-goal percentage and 53.6 3-point percentage. Nobody in NBA history has finished a season with those numbers. Detlef Schrempf (in 1994-95) is the only player to average at least 15 points per game with a 45 field-goal percentage and 50 3-point percentage.

• Thus far, Martin has a career high in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage and offensive rating this season.

If Martin continues on this pace of super offensive efficiency, the Thunder won’t regret trading Harden for him.


Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

Did OKC make mistake by trading Harden?

November, 7, 2012
11/07/12
11:05
AM ET
By Justin Page & Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJames Harden is leading the NBA in scoring this season.
James Harden is making many people think the Oklahoma City Thunder made a bad decision by trading him - and rightfully so.

Harden, who is playing 10.3 more minutes per game this season compared to last, leads the league in scoring with 35.3 points per game.

But perhaps the trade will end up being a win-win for both the Houston Rockets and Thunder - at least for this season as Martin is in the last year of his contract. Through four games - admittedly, a very small sample size - Martin is averaging 19.3 points per game, a 2.5 point increase over what Harden put up last season in an OKC uniform.

Martin scored 15 points last night in just 22 minutes of action. He's making more than three 3-pointers per game while shooting nearly 62 percent from behind the arc. It's also noteworthy that Jeremy Lamb - the other key piece in the trade along with draft picks - has scored six points in just seven total minutes this season.

Among the 96 players that have logged at least 100 minutes on the court this season, Harden and Martin rank first and tied for seventh, respectively, in points per 48 minutes. Russell Westbrook is averaging 28.9 points per 48 minutes while Kevin Durant is averaging 25.7.

Harden has 106 points through three games, the second-most points through the first three team games of a season in Rockets franchise history (Moses Malone had 107 points through three games in 1981).

Perhaps the craziest part of Harden's start is that we should have seen it coming. Last year in Oklahoma City, Harden averaged nearly 35 points per 40 minutes when he was not sharing the floor with Durant. This season, Harden’s per game numbers are eerily similar to his per 40 minute averages with Durant off the floor last season.

Harden is the first player with at least 106 points, 19 rebounds and 19 assists in his team’s first three games of a season since Michael Jordan in 1989-90.

Dwight Howard: Superman, Darwin finch

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
3:19
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Five minutes into last night’s Rockets-Magic game.

Dwight Howard caught the pass, jabbed left, dribbled right, spun right, ended up right in Samuel Dalembert’s teeth. The bastard child of a dunk and layup split the net above staggering Samuel’s head. Houston tried to immediately counter with a mad dash down the floor. Kevin Martin might have seen Dwight coming because he hoisted the layup so high above the rim. Howard viciously punched the offering as it hovered parallel to the top of the backboard square. He did this while in a 45 degree lean, looking something like a zooming Superman indeed.

In that moment, “Superman” made so much more sense as Dwight’s moniker than it ever did as Shaq’s. Superman is brawny, but also ubiquitously mobile. When I think, “Faster than a speeding bullet,” Shaquille O’Neal does not come to mind. But Dwight Howard moves as though asked by gun powder.

I especially enjoyed this loud end-to-end sequence because Howard can seem like a hidden superstar. People are naturally keyed on watching the ball, and Dwight gets rid of it in the time it takes a fuzzy camera shot to focus crisply. He sometimes shoots instantly upon catching an entry pass. Occasionally, he takes a dribble or two, but it is a true event to see Dwight exceed three floor thumps. This man can easily burn more clock doing his post-rebound elbow shimmy than he might on traditional post-ups.

Despite his ball brevity, he is the best center. And it isn’t even close. Howard’s nearest challenger may be Andrew Bynum, whom the Lakers would gladly swap for Dwight in a trade your fantasy commissioner (or real commissioner?) would veto. If you consider Tim Duncan a center, then Timmy provides nearly half of Dwight’s estimated wins. If you consider Al Horford a center, then he trails Howard 26.13 to 20.79 in last year’s PER rankings, while blocking only one shot per game. And if you consider Brook Lopez, your consideration is another overworked party in this compressed NBA season.

Howard obliterated would-be peers while standing only 6’ 9’’ in socks. Since he hails from the Shaq-Robinson-Chamberlain cannon of big man dominance, it is often forgotten that Dwight is average center height. Howard is the same height as Kevin Durant, and a full inch shorter than LaMarcus Aldridge. But D12 carries shoulder pads under his skin -- he’s a three-headed monster when I take my glasses off. Dwight’s imposing physique helps fuel a “dominance” aura, but quick-twitch athleticism does more to fuel his actual dominance. Faster than a speeding bullet.

While it is difficult to envision most NBA big men sprinting -- at least in scenarios where torch-bearing villagers aren’t chasing them -- Howard runs fluidly. While his predecessors would camp out and own a large swath of space, Dwight Howard rents timeshares all over the court. Though his ancestor is Shaquille O’Neal, Howard’s defensive game is just as close to Josh Smith’s.

The Magic center is superior, but few seem impressed. To some, Dwight Howard's success signifies how far the center position has fallen. DH lacks touch from anywhere he can't dunk from and he plays with mine-shaft court vision. It is easy to glance at Howard’s still rough offensive game and dismiss him as Wilt, the Stilted.

There is truth to the notion that big men aren't what they used to be. Compared to '90s centers, Howard is less visibly involved in his team’s offense. Below, I’ve listed some career-best usage percentage (percentage of a team's plays used by one player) years from notable bigs:

Patrick Ewing: 31.5, 95-96
David Robinson: 32.0, 93-94
Shaquille O’Neal: 32.9, 97-98
Hakeem Olajuwon: 31.9, 95-96
Rik Smits: 29.2, 97-98
Dwight Howard: 27.2, 10-11

So the best center of this generation, the one teams are ready to gut their rosters for, is less involved offensively than a healthy Rik Smits was. I think some would look at this and lament how we’ve lost our centers, how we’ve stopped making them like we stopped making quality cars, football stadiums, and every other pride signifier in this handbasket-to-hell nation.

I’ll disagree -- respectfully. We never stopped producing quality centers -- we just changed their environment. Back in the '90s, illegal defense rules allowed big men to work with some freedom. Re-appropriating from a piece I wrote on illegal defense’s impact:

These days, it’s commonly said that defenders should be connected “on a string,” their movements inextricably linked. A little over one decade ago, this wasn’t the case. Perimeter defenders were bound to whomever they guarded, and guard-defender units would orbit a dribbling post player like single electrons an atom’s periphery. If there was a “string,” then it connected man to marker.

Occasionally, the defender could break off to double-team this dribbling post player, but, that defensive player could only return to his original mark. Picture Reggie Miller racing over to harmlessly flail at a posting Patrick Ewing, then sprinting back to the three point line so as to cover an open John Starks. The lack of team-defense rotation made it relatively easy for post players to spot an open man (Hint: He’s from whence the double team came).

The allowance of zones shrunk a center’s offensive work space while expanding his defensive work space. Rules that “opened up the game” for current perimeter players, closed it for scoring bigs.

In these new environs, Dwight Howard represents the adaptability of Darwin's island finches. Offense Island made it dangerous for big men to get their points from plodding post play. So Dwight moves swiftly and treats the ball like a hand grenade. Defense Island implored big men to move on a string, mirroring the choreography of smaller, quicker players. So Dwight does this with aplomb while maintaining integrity as a shot blocker and rebounder.

Would it be nice if Dwight Howard added a feathery jumper or intricate post game? Sure, but those skills are ancillary to what makes him great in this particular environment. In the past, big men were defined by skills Dwight lacks. In the past, teams would have far rather had someone like Brook Lopez than someone like Joakim Noah or Tyson Chandler. If centers aren't what they used to be, it's because they're being what they need to be.

In today's NBA: If you're faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound...who cares if your fadeaway reeks?

Let 'em walk

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
3:38
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
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
12/19/11
1:25
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • 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.

Martin, Lowry Rocket-ing toward playoffs

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
1:47
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Martin
Martin
Kevin Martin scored 34 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 110-108 win over the Utah Jazz, moving them within two-and-a-half games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Martin was 18-for-18 from the free-throw line, the most free throws without a miss by a Rockets player in the past 25 seasons.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the eighth time in Martin’s career that he shot 15-for-15 or better from the foul line, tying Dolph Schayes for the second-most such games in NBA history. Oscar Robertson did it 11 times.

Martin’s teammate Kyle Lowry chipped in 28 points, a career-high 11 rebounds, and 10 assists for his first career triple-double. It’s the fifth-highest point total in a triple-double in the NBA this season.

Lowry has scored in double figures in 12 straight games, which is double his previous career-long streak. Lowry had just one turnover; he entered the day ninth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (minimum 125 assists).

The Rockets have won 11 of their past 14 games, moving from 12th to ninth in the Western Conference standings, and have cut their deficit in half in that span.

Speaking of the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers clinched a playoff spot when the Utah Jazz lost Sunday, then clinched the Pacific Division crown with their win over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Lakers remain in second place in the Western Conference, a game in front of the Dallas Mavericks, who clinched their 11th straight playoff appearance with a win over the Golden State Warriors.

The Mavericks allowed a season-low 73 points in their 28-point victory, and held the Warriors to 10 points in the fourth quarter (previous low: 12). Elias tells us that Dallas had been one of only three teams without a 20-point win this season, along with the New Jersey Nets (22-46) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-55).

The Boston Celtics, having clinched a playoff spot days earlier, clinched the Atlantic Division title when the New York Knicks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. Milwaukee outscored the Knicks 32-9 in the first quarter. The nine points were the fewest scored by the Knicks in any quarter under head coach Mike D’Antoni.

Not a Hollywood ending

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
7:18
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Love
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
The Suns' dreary record will keep Steve Nash from an eighth career All-Star berth.

Editor's note: Updated late Friday to reflect David Stern's choice of Kevin Love as Yao Ming's injury replacement.

The 2010-11 West All-Stars

Starters
Kevin Durant
Carmelo Anthony
Kobe Bryant
Chris Paul
Yao Ming* (injured)

Reserves
Tim Duncan
Pau Gasol
Manu Ginobili
Blake Griffin
Kevin Love*
Dirk Nowitzki
Russell Westbrook
Deron Williams

(* Love replaces injured Yao)

So, who is missing from that list? Let's look at some of the players who will be most chapped to learn they won't be headed to Los Angeles to strut their stuff on Presidents Day weekend.

Kevin Martin
If Yao Ming were healthy and productive, there's a chance the Chinese audience would have voted this guy a starter like it did in the past for Tracy McGrady. To say he scores efficiently is a vast understatement. He shoots 3s as well as any heavy-volume shooter and leads the league in free throws made. And while he has the reputation of a standstill shooter, his game winner last night -- an athletic and-1 over Al Jefferson -- is an integral part of his game, too. Were he more selfish, his scoring totals would make him an obvious pick, but he wouldn't be as helpful to his team.

LaMarcus Aldridge
How amazing is ex-Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard? The team's two best players go down, and a third emerges as a double-double monster and leader of a playoff-caliber team. On sheer production, Aldridge is on the bubble, especially when you factor in how he started the season (and, for that matter, his career). And it sure doesn't help that his team is middling and plays games that start incredibly late for a lot of voters. However, here's what you're missing: All-Star games are about stellar plays, a good hunk of which are lobs. Not sure anybody finishes more lobs than this long, fast leaper. It would have been pretty.

Monta Ellis
Turn off your inner critic for a moment. Speak not of efficiency, nor wins and losses. Take a deep breath. Go to your happy place. Listen to the airy music. And just watch what this guy does: He takes big piles of nothing and turns them into and-1s. He takes your lazy passes and makes them steals and dunks. He takes double-teams and splits them. He takes your slow defender and makes him fall over. He takes your outstretched arms, and, little though he is, shoots over them and hits every time. At least, that's how it goes in the highlight reel. He'd be fun to watch in Los Angeles. (And Commissioner Stern, think how much cheaper the travel would be, sending a guy who lives a tad farther up the coast.)

Steve Nash
The two-time MVP is doing just about everything as well as he ever did. Now the supporting cast and the W-L record are far less impressive. Should that matter? Yes, of course, in some ways. The challenge to every NBA player is to win. On the other hand, if not an All-Star berth, what way is there to honor the otherworldly play of an aging hero doomed by his owner's questionable leadership? Hollinger: "What we're basically saying is that Nash was responsible for having Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion on his team, and now it's his fault that they're gone."

David West
In addition to being the featured big man in Chris Paul's multifaceted attack, West is now the starting forward for a title-quality defense. If the Hornets could upgrade their wing players, Paul, West and Okafor would be a force in the West, and West would be an All-Star.

Zach Randolph
Has anyone noticed that Memphis has been turning it on lately? The Grizzlies have long been a popular pick to be terrible, but ever since getting Randolph, he has been putting up huge numbers and they have been better than expected. At the moment, the Grizzlies have a winning record and are on track to make the playoffs. Surely somebody deserves recognition for exceeding expectations like that. You could do worse than to pick the guy averaging a cool 20 points and 13 rebounds per game.

The 2010-11 East All-Stars

Starters
LeBron James
Amare Stoudemire
Dwyane Wade
Derrick Rose
Dwight Howard

Reserves
Ray Allen
Chris Bosh
Kevin Garnett
Al Horford
Joe Johnson
Paul Pierce
Rajon Rondo

Andrew Bogut
One of Andrew Bogut's problems is that he's in the Eastern Conference with Dwight Howard, who is unlikely to ever miss this game, and, now, Al Horford, who is proving to be quite the stud. As an extra annoyance, players like Joakim Noah (whose Bulls are 14 games ahead of the Bucks in the standings) and Brook Lopez also vie for the title of conference's third-best center. Last year when Bogut was on the All-Star bubble, he offered to switch positions. He can play center, but he swears he can also bring the ball up and zing behind-the-back passes. So, maybe that's something to consider next time.

Carlos Boozer
It was 2004 -- a half-century ago in dog years -- that Carlos Boozer offended the NBA by taking the biggest contract he could get. Sometimes it feels like he gets punished anew for that every year. He's a 20 and 10 guy (and the highest-paid player) on a 34-14 Bulls team that is shattering the assumption that the Celtics, Magic and Heat are the East's three candidates to make the Finals.

Joakim Noah
Charles Barkley's favorite NBA player is beautiful to watch, even if you're not captivated by the flowing curls. He has infinite love -- for the game, for winning, for his teammates, for hustle, for the big moments. It's no coincidence he was part of special teams in college and again in the pros. The man plays his heart out, and any league would be wise to reward that. Meanwhile, his team has been as exciting as any in the league this season. The only real drawback to his candidacy: Thanks to injury, he has played just 24 games, and a lot of Chicago's best ball has come with Noah in funky street clothes.

Kobe in the giving mood on Tuesday

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
5:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The Los Angeles Lakers earned their first overtime win of the season in large part to Kobe Bryant who finished with 32 points and 11 assists. Bryant joins Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook as the only players this season with multiple games with at least 30 points and 10 assists.
Kobe Bryant
Bryant

This was Bryant’s fourth 10-assist game of the season and in doing so he recorded his 5,005th career assist. He becomes the third player in Lakers history to eclipse the 5,000 assist mark with the team, joining Magic Johnson and Jerry West. Bryant also became the seventh player in NBA history to register 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 5,000 assists.
Bryant’s teammates didn’t do too bad Tuesday night either as Lamar Odom finished with 20 points and a season-high 20 rebounds. It was Odom's second career 20-20 game. Pau Gasol added 26 points and pulled down 16 rebounds.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that it had been exactly 38 years since two Lakers had at least 20 points and 16 rebounds in a game. On February 1, 1973, Wilt Chamberlain had 25/19 (points/rebounds) and Bill Bridges went 20/16 in a win at the Phoenix Suns.

The most interesting note of the day came from the Lakers opposition, the Houston Rockets.

Guard Kevin Martin, who leads the NBA in free throws made, was 10-11 from the free throw line. He attempted AND made every single free throw for the Rockets. The last player to attempt all his team's free throws in a single game (min. 10 attempts) was Steve Francis on April 8, 2002 at the Orlando Magic (went 7-11). The last player to make all his team's free throws in a single game (min. 10 attempts) was Bill Cartwright on November 13, 1979 vs the Washington Bullets. Cartwright was 11-11 while the New York Knicks as a whole went 11-13.

Elsewhere around the league, two hoopers notched career highs of their own.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored a career-high 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other Portland Trail Blazers starting forwards ever had 40/10 (points/rebounds) in a game. Maurice Lucas went 46/17 at the Boston Celtics in January 1979, and Zach Randolph had two such games in 2007: 42/12 in January and 43/17 in March, both against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Jason Smith, making his first NBA start at center, shot 9-11 (81.8 percent) while playing just 25:12 in the New Orleans Hornets win over the Washington Wizards. Only one other starting center in Hornets' history has ever shot 80 percent or better in a game while attempting at least 10 field goals and playing fewer than 26 minutes. Kenny Gattison was 10-12 (83.3 percent) in 20 minutes in a Hornets' 141-134 loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 9, 1992.

Hawks soar as Smith puts up 34

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
4:08
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Josh Smith
Smith
Josh is smooth in Hawks win

Although there were only seven games in the NBA Tuesday night, there was no shortage of great notes.

Take Josh Smith, for example, who scored a season-high 34 points in the Atlanta Hawks' 116-101 victory over the New Jersey Nets.

Smith shot 14-16 from the floor, and over the last four seasons, only three other players have scored at least 34 points on at least 14-16 shooting: Amar'e Stoudemire (this season), Chris Bosh (2007-08) and Kevin Martin (2007-08).

The Hawks shot 60.3 percent from the floor in the win, just the fourth team in the NBA to do so this season.

Atlanta also continues to get it done despite the absence of Joe Johnson, improving to 4-1 without their star. Both Smith and Jamal Crawford had season highs in scoring.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Smith became the first Hawks player with a game of that many points (34) and that high a FG pct (87.5 pct) in more than 55 years, since Hall-of-Famer Bob Pettit scored 34 points while making 12 of 13 shots (92.3 percent) on March 14, 1955.

Pettit’s performance came in a 99-84 win over the Philadelphia Warriors, in a neutral-site game played in Albany, New York. What made the game especially noteworthy is that it was the final game played by the Hawks while representing Milwaukee.

Less than 2 months later, it was announced that the team would move from Milwaukee to St. Louis for the 1955-56 season; it then moved to Atlanta in 1968.

Texas Ten-Step

Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks' 105-100 win over the Golden State Warriors gave them 10 straight wins.

It’s the eighth time dating back to the 2001-02 season that the Mavericks have had a 10-game win streak, tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the most in the NBA over that span.

That 10-game win streak was enough to move the Mavericks from fifth to second place in the Western Conference.

Miller time ends

Finally, Andre Miller was suspended for the Portland Trail Blazers’ 106-99 win over the Phoenix Suns after his hit on Blake Griffin in Portland’s last game.

That’s important because it snapped Miller’s streak of 632 consecutive games played, which was the longest active streak in the NBA.

Derek Fisher is now the NBA’s new iron man, having played in his 434th consecutive game in Tuesday night’s Los Angeles Lakers' win. The New Orleans Hornets' Jarrett Jack moves to second, with 309 straight games played.

Kevin Martin has no complaints

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
10:13
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Martin
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
Kevin Martin is reunited with Rick Adelman and Brad Miller -- and couldn't be happier about it

There might not be a player in the league with a more confounding game than Kevin Martin. Take a look at the odd, left-leaning release on his jumper and you can imagine a nation of high school basketball coaches cringing. Martin's field-goal percentage and defensive game have never been all that impressive on the surface. But once you get past traditional measures -- both aesthetic and statistical -- you'll find a uniquely efficient perimeter player who thrives in systems that take advantage of those gifts.

Rick Adelman's read-and-react offense in Houston is one such system. Although Martin is a capable one-on-one player, he's always been most effective running off screens, cutting, curling or fading to the arc when the defense sags. Martin harbors an appreciation for his days in Sacramento, where he went from an obscure late first-rounder out of Western Carolina to the first option in the offense. But he's thrilled to be back with his first NBA coach, whom Martin credits with helping him become that marquee player.

We caught up by phone with Martin in Houston last week, and talked about the change in culture he's experienced since the trade that sent him from Sacramento to Houston, the limitations of his game and the influence of Brad Miller:

So what's your summer day like?
I decided to get a place in Tampa so I could do some extensive training.

What are you working on in specific?
The basics. Getting my form back because I had surgery on my left wrist last year, so we wanted to get my 3-point shot back. There were a couple of minor mechanical things. Also, defenses load up on me, so I'm working on a lot of counter-moves for when the defense stops that first move.

When you're not in the gym, what do you do in your down time? You a beach guy?
I'm more of a city guy. I like to roam around, maybe check out a restaurant. I also like playing with my electronics -- like the new iPad.

So you're a proud member of the Apple cult?
Yeah!

Sacramento to Houston -- the perception is that's a huge cultural move for you. "Culture" is a term that sportswriters -- and front office people when they're talking to sportswriters -- throw around a lot, but does "team culture" really exist from a player's standpoint?
There definitely is such a thing as team culture. It starts with the organization, what kind of veteran players they have. Here in Houston, Shane [Battier] and Yao [Ming] are the veterans. They set the tone for us on how to be professionals. They've been around the community a lot. They set a big example for young fellas and are just two great leaders with what they do.

So if someone were to drop you in a random locker room of some team you didn't know, you could totally tell whether it was a winning or a losing locker room?
Unfortunately, yes. I've been on both sides of it. We're all paid to play this sport we love. If you're on a team like that as a team leader, you wish it didn't happen and you try to minimize it, but you can only control so much. It's up to the players to be professional about it. But you can definitely tell the difference.

How do they do things differently in Houston?
First, it's a veteran ball club with guys who just want to win. We all made names for ourselves in the league and the only legacy we're trying to leave now is winning. We can all put up nice numbers and things like that. You have to give credit to [general manager] Daryl [Morey] for bringing in those kind of people -- players with a lot of class and who are motivated. Of all the guys on our roster, there's really only one player who came into the league with big expectations, and that's Yao. The rest of us -- we've been the hard workers. I was like the 15th player on the roster my rookie year and had to work my way up. Then I was the No. 1 player for three years. This isn't to disrespect guys, but it's not about hype in Houston. These are guys who have worked their way up the ladder. I'm definitely happy to be in an organization like this. You know what you need to do and you just go out there and get it done. You don't need anyone on your throat all the time.

With Trevor Ariza on the move, what does the situation look like at the small forward on the court for the Rockets?
It shows how much faith Daryl has put in our other 3s -- in Shane and Chase [Budinger]. With the starting lineup we have now, Shane is the defensive stopper, and that helps us a lot there. Those guys will have to pick up Trevor's production on both ends of the court. I think we have a great system that allows other guys to do that.

How do you rate yourself as a defensive player?
Great question. I've never had anyone ask me that. I get judged a lot on it. I try to work hard, but the last three years I was a guy who had to put up 25 points a game just to not lose by 10. But my first two years under Rick Adelman, that's how I stayed on the court. It was because of defense. And I could because I had four offensive players around me. I know I have to get back to that, but I also think Houston is a better place to allow me to get back to that because I won't have to be the No. 1 option every night. Now I can do other things on the court.

So it's true that guys conserve energy on the defensive end because so much is asked of them offensively? That means their defense is less intense.
For some players that's true. Everyone has their roles.

Stat-heads love you because your true shooting percentage -- which takes into account 3-pointers and free throws -- is always impressive. You have this knack for drawing contact and getting to the line, or just draining the 3. But one thing I've never completely understood is how a player like you makes decisions. When you have the ball in your hands out on the perimeter, are you looking to either shoot or draw contact? I'm either going to get a clean shot or I'm drawing a foul? Are you looking to do both? How do you decide in the moment?
There are always different scouting reports on how to guard me. Guys know my first step is so quick so they might back up off me. Right there, I'm just going to take the open shot because I'd rather do that then try to go in there against all those big guys and get hammered on the floor. Then other nights, guys are like, "He's such a great shooter," and they try to get up on me. That's when I use my quickness. Once I get by you, I just know the rules -- you can't bump a guy off his path. If I'm going to the hole, and I've gotten past you, you can't get back in my path. That's how I get a lot of those calls. It's tricky and you have to have a lot of moves in your arsenal and trust your game. As the No. 1 guy the last three years, I've gotten knowledgeable about knowing how the defense plays me.

You didn't pass the ball a lot in Sacramento. Was that a function of the system or is that just not your game?
If you watched those games, when I'm making a move, I'm going to make that move and try to score. Also, there's time where my assists weren't there because maybe I'm not the greatest playmaker, but I will pass the ball and give other guys chances. That's how that went. Over my three years in Sactown, they got rid of (Ron) Artest and I was playing with a lot of guys who were trying to make names for themselves in the league. They were young guys and just learning the game. Once Artest was gone, I was playing with four starters who had never started before. But I also think that's what made me the player I am today because I had all the attention of opposing teams.


So we should expect your assist totals to go up this year, just by virtue of Rick Adelman's system?
Yes.


When we say that a perimeter player knows how "to play off a big man," what does that mean?
I've always wanted to play with a guy like Yao. I think the trick is to keep them happy. You give them the ball when they're in great scoring position and you make the right plays when they give you the ball -- like me and Brad [Miller]. My offensive game is where it is today because of Brad Miller. The way he and Rick taught me how to cut and things like that made me so much better. The last three years in Sacramento, it was all, like, one-on-one. Now I'm back in a system where I can cut. Playing with big guys like Yao who get rebounds for you, you feed them back. Keep them happy.


Let's talk more about Brad Miller and Rick's system.
Rick's system is all about read-and-react. When you're young and watching film, you like to watch a couple of guys who you're modeling your game after, and mine was always Rip Hamilton. I always looked at how he came off screens. That's where my shooting and curling evolved. That was my bread and butter my first three years. Then I moved on to other things. Playing with Brad, he's the one who taught me how to cut at the right time -- not cut too early. When I started doing more iso stuff, I watched film of [Dwyane] Wade iso situations. You put all this together and that's how you become a more complete player.


So Brad was like Yoda Big Man? How did he impart this knowledge to you?
With Brad and me, it was always on the court. And I also got a chance to watch him and Peja [Stojakovic] play a lot my first year because I didn't really play too much. He and Peja had a great connection. I knew I was a lot quicker and had a lot more agility than Peja. So at the beginning, I would always do everything so fast. I'd be too fast before the cut, during the cut, after the cut. Brad would say, "Slow down! You're faster than everybody out here, but you have to read it!" He showed me the ins and outs of making those cuts and reads -- when to come around. Like when a guy plays under you, come around and take the jumper. And when a guy is playing you tight, you just go back door. Brad taught me how to play.

Breaking down the four-team trade

August, 11, 2010
8/11/10
3:44
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Every acquisition has a cost, which is one of the bedrock principles of bartering. Unless you're purchasing Manhattan or annexing the Sudetenland, it's virtually impossible to get something for nothing. The NBA's trade market has three primary currencies in circulation: talent, cap relief and flexibility -- with the latter two linked to some extent. On Wednesday, Houston, New Orleans, Indiana and New Jersey cooperated on a blockbuster trade that saw each team forfeit assets in service of a larger goal.

Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty ImagesCourtney Lee will pick up some of Trevor Ariza's minutes in Houston.


Houston Rockets

Coming: Courtney Lee
Going: Trevor Ariza


On the surface, the deal for the Rockets appears to be a cost-cutting measure. Houston re-upped Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry this summer, while signing Brad Miller to a free-agent contract. Deep into luxury tax territory, the Rockets unloaded the remaining four years and $28 million on Ariza's deal in exchange for Nets guard Courtney Lee.

The Rockets' front office deeply believes the best value contracts in basketball are max deals granted to transcendent superstars, and rookie scale contracts belonging to productive young players. In Lee, the Rockets get a young wing who will earn only $1.35 million in 2010-11. In addition, the Rockets hold a team option on Lee for $2.23 million in 2011-12. That's real value for a 24-year-old with the talent to start. A $6.3 million trade exception doesn't hurt either.

Lee and Rockets starting shooting guard Kevin Martin train together in the offseason -- the latter regarded as an older brother to the third-year guard. Although Lee might not be the stopper Ariza is, he is capable of covering either guard position and can certainly tread water against some of the league's less dynamic 3-and-D small forwards. Lee will find strong organizational dynamics in Houston, similar to what he encountered during his rookie season in Orlando, where he succeeded. With Ariza's departure, the Rockets will have to figure out who picks up his minutes beyond Lee and whether that means experimenting selectively with Martin at the 3 spot.



New Orleans Hornets

Coming: Trevor Ariza
Going: Darren Collison and James Posey


The wing has been an enduring problem for the Hornets dating back to Desmond Mason, Bostjan Nachbar and J.R. Smith. Ariza might not rank on Chris Paul's list of the top 25 guys he most wants to play with, but the second Ariza puts on the teal, he'll instantly become the most athletic and versatile wing New Orleans has seen in recent years -- but at an enormous cost.

Collison has one of the best value contracts in basketball. He'll earn $1.3 million this season and carries team options for $1.46 million and $2.31 respectively over the subsequent two seasons. As a rookie, Collison played more than 2,000 minutes and compiled an impressive player efficiency rating of 16.55.

There's no guarantee Chris Paul will be sticking around New Orleans after his contract expires in the summer of 2012, and Collison's presence was a healthy -- and cheap -- insurance policy against that departure and any injury. Removing the remaining $13.4 million of James Posey's contract and the addition of Ariza's gifted -- but limited -- game seem to be an expensive bounty for a player with the potential to be very special and who is already contributing on a nightly basis.



Indiana Pacers

Coming: Darren Collison and James Posey
Going: Troy Murphy


"Point guard, Indiana Pacers" has been the NBA equivalent of "Drummer, Spinal Tap." The Pacers haven't been able to buy a break at the top of the floor for several seasons. Jamaal Tinsley, Anthony Johnson, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Jarrett Jack and, most recently, T.J. Ford and Earl Watson have all walked through the revolving door in Indianapolis.

A.J. Price, picked in the second round of the 2009 draft, showed some promise in his rookie campaign. But the acquisition of Collison finally locks down the point for the Pacers for the foreseeable future.

Normally, a salary like Posey's would be an onerous burden, but the Pacers have one of the cleanest spreadsheets in the league going forward -- only $18.8 million committed in 2011-12 before you tack on Posey's deal. The addition of Collison gives the Pacers the freedom to buy out Ford and not overpay for the services of Watson.



New Jersey Nets

Coming: Troy Murphy
Going: Courtney Lee


There's a pleasing symmetry to this deal, and it ends in Newark where Murphy arrives in exchange for the departing Lee. Murphy offers a lot of appeal for the Nets. First, he's in the final year of his contract, which will pay him a hair under $12 million in 2010-11. Second, he gives the Nets a stretch 4 who can crash the defensive glass and deliver smart interior passes, assets the Nets want alongside Brook Lopez's more traditional skill set.

What about No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors? The power forward out of Georgia Tech turned 19 the week following Orlando summer league. With Yi Jianlian moving down I-95 to Washington, there will be plenty of minutes for Favors in the Nets' frontcourt rotation.

The Nets will presumably fill the void left by Lee with a platoon of Terrence Williams, Anthony Morrow and Quinton Ross -- three players who share absolutely nothing in common. Williams' versatility and range of talents span the board. Meanwhile, Morrow could beat Ross in a shooting contest wearing a blindfold, but few players in the NBA can torment perimeter scorers the way Ross can.

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