TrueHoop: Marvin Williams
Here are some notes I collected this weekend and this morning:
• Al Horford's five-year, $60 million extension came as a mild surprise to a number of GMs around the league on Monday. Clearly the Hawks love Horford and the toughness he brings to their front line, but can they really afford him after giving more than $100 million to Joe Johnson this summer?
Several GMs believe the Hawks won't be able to keep Johnson ($18.5 million in 2011-12), Josh Smith ($12.5 million in 2011-12), Marvin Williams ($8 million in 2011-12) and Horford ($12 million in 2011-12) together past this season for financial reasons.
While Horford's new salary won't push the Hawks into the luxury tax, it will put them very close. The move means they won't be able to afford to re-sign Jamal Crawford, or replace him with a similar salaried player next season, without incurring the tax.
That situation is already leading to speculation that GM Rick Sund may be forced to put Smith on the market soon. Sund briefly flirted with trading Smith last summer, before pulling back. While no one is claiming he's been made available yet, a number of GMs around the league expect his name to be in the mix by the February trade deadline.
Williams would be the Hawks' first choice to move, but he didn't get a lot of bites when he was available this summer. That could push them to see what they can get for Smith.
A number of teams, including the Knicks, Nets, Pistons and Suns, have shown interest in the high-flying forward in the past. It will be interesting to see if talks heat up as we get closer to February.
The extension for Horford (along with previous extensions for Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah) essentially takes away the three best restricted free agent prospects from the draft class of 2007.
Still, the restricted class is pretty strong. Greg Oden, Marc Gasol, Thaddeus Young, Rodney Stuckey, Jeff Green, Aaron Brooks, Mike Conley, Wilson Chandler, Brandan Wright, Arron Afflalo, Yi Jianlian and Marcus Thornton haven't received extensions as of Monday afternoon. (UPDATE: Conley signed an extension on Monday night.)
Typically restricted free agents struggle to get big offer sheets, and if they do, their team usually matches. But given the plethora of teams with major cap space this coming summer, that could change.
• The Timberwolves drew the wrong types of headlines on opening night when head coach Kurt Rambis benched forward Kevin Love in the fourth quarter of a tight game against the Kings.
Love was clearly unhappy and it didn't take long for fans to start a "Free Kevin Love" campaign. Love had a rocky relationship with the Wolves last season, too, and this clearly wasn't the way to start off the new season.
However, those who think Love is going to be traded soon are going to be disappointed. Sources say that the Wolves and Love have talked since the game and that going forward, Rambis won't be benching the team's best player in the fourth quarter. While Love clearly could use some work on the defensive end, he's the franchise right now until Ricky Rubio arrives (if he arrives) and the Wolves are going to do more to make sure he's happy.
• Speaking of the Wolves, don't be too hard on GM David Kahn for taking Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins. The Wolves didn't think he'd be a fit next to Love. But that wasn't the biggest reason they passed. There was a bigger concern that Cousins would be too much to handle in the locker room -- especially on such a young team.
Those concerns, according to sources, are already being borne out in Sacramento. While Cousins has played very well in the summer league, preseason and in the Kings' first three regular-season games, there are concerns.
Sources close to the Kings tell me that Cousins has earned his reputation for being difficult. Several players on the team have complained privately about his attitude and he's already butted heads with assistant coaches in practice.
• On draft night, the Knicks caught me by surprise when they took Stanford forward Landry Fields with the 39th pick in the draft. Fields was in our database ranked as the 116th-best player in the draft. He's the first American player ever to be drafted that wasn't in our Top 100 since we started doing this in 2003.
Clearly, I blew it.
Fields has earned a starting position for the Knicks and through three games is posting a very impressive 19.30 PER -- better than both Blake Griffin and Cousins.
How did I (and a number of NBA teams) miss so badly? Our Top 100 is based on the consensus of a number NBA scouts and executives. Fields wasn't mentioned by any of them. He was so off the radar that he wasn't one of the top 60 players invited by the NBA to participate in the Chicago predraft camp. The NBA selects participants based off of rankings by all 30 NBA teams.
But that's not an excuse. One NBA scout, along with a source close to the Stanford team, called me and told me I was sleeping on Fields. I pulled down some tape from Synergy and, frankly, just didn't see it. Had I thought about him specifically for Mike D'Antoni's wide-open system -- maybe. But the truth is I thought he was a good European prospect, not an NBA one.
He's proven me and the rest of the league very wrong in the early going. From all accounts he's a very nice kid who's working really hard. Here's hoping he keeps it up over the course of his career.
- Rahat Huq of Red94 emails with Rockets' senior vice president of basketball operations about the unique relationship between the big club and the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Through the D-League's single affiliate partnership model, the Rockets are able to better place their handprint on the player development process: "The Vipers run sets from Rick Adelman’s playbook, not only giving prospects a chance to acclimate to the big-league offense, but also providing the Rockets opportunity to test out new wrinkles in an environment with lesser stakes."
- How should we evaluate Nate McMillan's performance as head coach of the Trail Blazers? That's the question Sean Meagher of OregonLive.com posed to Henry Abbott in an email. Henry's response: "When Nate McMillan retires, I suspect he will have won multiple championships. But I also suspect he will have had no greater coaching accomplishment then taking some duct tape, paper clips and rookie Jeff Pendergraph and coaching them to 50 wins this season. That was really something. One key factor was all the talent Kevin Pritchard assembled. Another was the never-say-die attitude, and efficient offense, that are staples of McMillan teams. Maybe he plays it a little safe. Maybe he fears turnovers more than he loves virtuosity. Maybe Rudy Fernandez will blossom in another system one day. Maybe Brandon Roy shouldn't have played so much in the playoffs. Maybe he's a little rigid. But thinking like an optomizer can kill you. The simple fact is that this young team has played hard, smart basketball and has achieved a ton."
- Dwane Casey continues to be one of the finest head coaching candidates on the market, and will likely be employed in the capacity of head coach somewhere this fall. Kelly Dwyer makes the case for Casey in Atlanta.
- Neil Paine at Basketball Reference examines the effectiveness of each five-man unit for the remaining teams.
- Don and Chris from Blogs With Balls break into Joakim Noah's home gym. Noah's walk-in closet could house a Sesna. Among the items Noah preserves in there is his maize bow tie from draft day 2007.
- At Fanhouse, Tom Ziller measures the offensive ratings and usage rates of the incoming draft class of big men (and some from previous classes, too). The results might surprise you. Did you know Gani Lawal's usage rate under Paul Hewitt was greater than Derrick Favors'?
- Marvin Williams will forever wear a millstone around his neck for being drafted ahead of both Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Bret LaGree of Hoopinion breaks down Williams' quirky, somewhat regressive season in Atlanta.
- Why did the Lakers have so much trouble defending Phoenix's second unit? Seth Pollack of Bright Side of the Suns cites one factor: "A defense that had adjusted to the Nash/Stoudemire attack was suddenly faced with the relentless two-headed speed demons in Goran and Leandro, who were able to penetrate the Lakers from the perimeter and force the defense to collapse." Dragic didn't put up a gaudy scoring line, but his Nashian performance (eight assists in 17 minutes) tells you how much control he was exerting while manning the point for the bench during their two prodigious stints in the second and fourth quarter.
- The Suns modified their zone in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers managed only 22 points.
- Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball: "But if the Magic want any chance to do the impossible, to win four games in a row against a former champion, they need to ride on the Jameer Nelson-Dwight Howard pick and roll until the wheels fall off." Ben Q. Rock pores over the data and concludes that the Magic need to keep Howard moving in the half-court.
- Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops is a very analytical, measured guy, but Gerald Henderson's shot selection causes him to yell at his television.
- Self-awareness is an elusive trait for high-profile athletes whose images, comments and behavior are projected externally almost every day. Dan Feldman of PistonPowered looks at the curious case of Charlie Villanueva.
- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had some fans rallying in support of Arizona's new immigration reform legislation prior to Game 4. Among the signage: "Nash Ramble Back to Canada. Don't Come Back."
- The Manute Bol, Get Well Soon! Facebook Group. Bol is suffering from kidney failure and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.
- NBA players be warned: You'll find the least healthy restaurant entree in America on the menu at The Cheesecake Factory.
Posted by Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell.
- I'm always more sympathetic to players who test positive for PEDs when the phrase "over the counter" is part of the story. If a substance is readily available to your local high school football team, why would we slap the hands of professional athletes for taking it? Well, as you might have guessed, that sort of reasoning is entirely too simplistic. Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is only available by way of a sad piece of legislative history. Jeff Passan details that episode in this article. Go read Passan's take, and when you're done join me in giving the NBA three cheers for having more integrity on this issue than MLB. The NBA has its warts, but I'm happy that looking the other way on DHEA is not one of them. (Thanks to Third Quarter Collapse for bringing our attention to the Passan piece.)
- Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus frames the Rashard Lewis discussion differently than most: "Performance enhancers are a fact of life. Rather than pouring all of these resources into vilifying athletes that made choices no different than what 99% of us would have made, perhaps it would be better to legitimize the industry and work to make PEDs safe. After all, the reason that they have been declared illegal by the FDA isn't because they allow you to hit a baseball farther (if it's true that that is the case); they are illegal because they have unacceptable risks for potentially lethal side effects. Modern athletes are serving as guinea pigs for a developing arm of pharmacology that in 20 years, no one is likely to object to...if they have found ways for all of us to improve the quality of our lives."
- Will the Rashard Lewis suspension dramatically impact the playoff race? One stat geek says not so much: "As far as I'm concerned, the only relevance this news has is this: The Magic will lose the services of an excellent player for 10 games. But Orlando projects to be a deep team this season and when I reduce Lewis' playing time projection by 10% and up that of players like Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes and Ryan Anderson, I see that the Magic's win projection drops from 52 to 51. That is all that really matters."
- Marvin Williams is set to re-sign with the Hawks. Really, it's true this time.
- Jon Nichols of Hardwood Paroxysm takes a smart look at shot selection in the final two minutes of games.
- The Memphis Grizzlies fascinate me. Memphis GM Chris Wallace recently spoke to Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue and placed the size of his team's scouting staff in perspective. Michael Heisley takes a beating in the press, but Ronald Tillery makes an argument that Heisley does some things very well. And in a companion piece, Heisley paints himself as Clay Bennett's opposite. Who knew that the Grizzlies were so provocative?
- Russell Westbrook tells Dime about all the hard work that has gone into his vertical leap. (Thanks to Royce Young of Daily Thunder for the alert.)
- Someone else who thinks the Lakers lost in the Ariza/Artest exchange.
- Ridiculous Upside reconsiders the question of whether to play in the D-League or Europe. And, don't look now, but they're out in full force defending the Grizzlies too.
- Neil Paine of Basketball Reference provides a bunch of data that adds up in this way: "...it appears that there's a very slight trend over the last decade that says teams who rely on their guards and smaller players tend to win a few more games over the course of a season. This makes sense, given that the league spent most of the Oughts trying to tip the advantage in favor of perimeter scorers with modifications to the rules on hand-checking and more liberal foul calls on drives in general."
- Meet Dr. Foot.
- You have to appreciate Tony Parker's candor. He tells L'Equipe that his recent return to San Antonio was upsetting and that he plans to gradually work himself back into his national team's rotation. They have a heavy schedule between now and training camp. (HT: Kace)
- I spent the morning listening to a terrific Blazer's Edge podcast with Kevin Pelton. If you don't have time to listen to the entire podcast, skip to segment 4 where Benjamin Golliver and Pelton pick up the hot-button topic of Moneyball, scouting, and the changing face of player evaluation in the NBA. (Soft caution: PG-13 audio between clips.)
- Jeremy Tyler will not be playing for Union Olympija Lubiana.
- Kurt Rambis is the leading candidate to become the T-Wolves next head coach. Shaquille O'Neal is not the GM in Minnesota.
- Most of the emails I received today were about the new Nike promotional featuring Kevin Durant, Mo Williams and Rashard Lewis.
- Save Our Sonics thinks James Donaldson has the best chance of restoring an NBA franchise to Seattle.
- Bethlehem Shoals says meh to the much ballyhooed free agent race of 2010. Chad Ford says these nine teams are in that race.
- Update: Sebastian Pruiti of Nets Are Scorching learns that upon being drafted Terrence Williams was immediately enamored by New Jersey's market size. That Terrence Williams caught on quick.
While the cellar-dwellers prepare their draft board, the NBA's elite have some tough calls to make. Will the Lakers pony up for Lamar Odom? Is Hedo Turkoglu worth exceeding the cap for? And the Cavs confront the reality that they're a couple of rotation players away from Eastern supremacy.
Darius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold: "We're at the point where [Lamar] Odom's true value to this team is no longer a mystery. When you talk X's and O's, he's the player that makes our strong side zone work as he provides the mobility and length to move from one side of the court to the other, pick up flashing big men, guard perimeter players, trap the ball handler, and still recover to the paint to rebound. He's the player that helps create our tremendous offensive spacing - playing as a PF that can initiate the offense, play on the perimeter (and be effective with the jumper or the drive), find creases in defenses to take advantage of the double teams that Kobe and [Pau] Gasol face, and also play in isolation from any position on the court (wing, top of the key, low block, elbow, etc). And when you talk team building and chemistry, he's also a real leader for the Lakers. Many will point to Kobe [Bryant] or [Derek] Fisher as our leaders - and rightfully so - but it's Odom that has been the stabilizer for our squad. He's been the bridge between our first and second units, the guy that organizes team dinners and brings in a chef for training camp, the guy that is in the middle of the huddle motivating and inspriring our guys for the battle ahead, and the guy whose lighthearted nature and devotion to the team keeps the locker room loose. We need this player."
Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "[T]o other teams, is [Hedo] Turkoglu really worth close to eight figures? John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating isn't perfect, but it's probably the best method we have of comparing players. Turkoglu's PER this season was less than Travis Outlaw, Marvin Williams, Grant Hill, Rudy Gay, Anthony Randolph and Richard Jefferson. And PER often punishes player who are shut-down defenders - something Turkoglu is not. We all know the intangibles of Hedo Turkoglu - his ball-handling skills, his abilities to create mismatches, his knack for shooting well in the clutch - are why he's so valuable to the Orlando Magic. But it can't be ignored how much Turkoglu fell off from last season to this season ... It's not like 30-year-old players regularly bounce back after down years. It's hard to imagine the Magic, or any team, think Turkoglu's career year of 2007-08 is the norm. The Turkoglu we saw this season is likely what most people expect out of Turkoglu going forward. Is 16-5-5 with a poor shooting percentage worth $10 million?"
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "A rotation big is hard to find. Really hard to find. And even if Andy [Varejao] comes back, this team, as Ben Wallace's corpse made clear in the ECF, is having trouble filling those minutes, especially considering Joe Smith seemed to be out of the playoff rotation. JJ Hickson is a great prospect, but even he has serious question marks at the defensive ends. The good news: LeBron James can give you 15 absolutely unbelievable minutes at the 4 on a nightly basis. The numbers were eye-popping ... this season when he played at the 4: A PER of 38, 39/11/8.5, and 2 blocks per 48 minutes, a higher net +/- per 48 minutes than his minutes at small forward, and he holds his man to less than a league-average PER defensively. And this is all with Wally [Szczerbiak] holding down the three spot and essentially doing nothing and getting exploited defensively. In the playoffs, Wally was simply too much of a liability. With a true rotation-quality swingman, the Cavs could take advantage of LeBron's ability at the four without leaving a hole, and it's much, much, much easier to get a rotation-quality swingman than a rotation-quality power forward."
(Photos by Noah Graham, Jesse D. Garrabrant, Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
So, nobody from either Atlanta or Boston will be suspended for Game 5, and that's a big problem for people in ... Phoenix.
For instance, consider this e-mail from TrueHoop reader Damien:
HOW IN THE WORLD WERE THERE NO SUSPENSIONS??? I'm not a huge Suns fan, but if I was in Phoenix right now, I'd be rioting in the streets. The EXACT thing that Stern suspended the players for last season in the series against the Spurs now goes unpunished because it might hurt the Celtics chances of advancing to a possible Celtics / Lakers finals. To quote Stu Jackson from last season, "A precedent wasn't necessary here. The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear. Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are." Stern and Jackson also concluded last year that Duncan didn't deserve a suspension for stepping on the court during the Elson-Jones mess in game 4 because it was not deemed an altercation. Well what was last night? How is this not the ultimate example of a double standard? Duncan and Bowen don't get suspended during the game 4 situation, no one gets suspended from last night's game, but Stoudemire and Diaw got suspended? How can they possibly defend this?? Why was Tim Frank, NBA Spokesman, giving his response to this situation instead of Jackson or Stern, who were so quick to quote NBA rule 12-A-VII-c last season but ignore it now? Does this not all seem a little fishy? Why am I getting Donaghy flashbacks?
Atlanta fans were really hoping for suspensions. (Update: At least some of them. Micah Hart, who helps to run the team's website emails: "I should only speak for myself, but I can tell you at least that the Hawks as a team, and the people who work around the team, did NOT want them suspended. I think the Hawks, being a young team, have a tendency to play to the level of the competition. ... I don't want there to be anything that makes the Hawks think they can let up for even a second, even subconsciously.") For one thing, it would keep key Boston big man Kendrick Perkins out of the game. As an added bonus, it would force Mike Woodson to play Josh Childress in place of Marvin Williams, something a lot of Hawks fans have long advocated. (Check out the +/- discrepancy between the two last game: Childress was +18, Williams -10.)
For the record, here is my understanding of what happened in this case: If players leave the area of the bench during an altercation, they are suspended for the next game. Period. That's the story, and that's what Stu Jackson and David Stern said so emphatically last year.
If you read the coverage of that big messy story at the time, you know that I am generally supportive of the league in this. Fair or not, bench-clearing brawls are a major problem for this sport, and they are way down thanks to this rule. And the players know this rule very well, so anyone who breaks it is, you know, asking for it.
But wow, if the rule is to be enforced without interpretation, it is to be enforced without interpretation, right?
Wrong. I have talked to the league, and I have learned there is an element of the rule that is interpreted by Stu Jackson and his staff, and that is whether or not a player has actually left "the bench area."
The kicker is, there's no real definition of "bench area."
But, apparently, it has been a false assumption that standing on the court at all is taboo. If you stay close to the bench, and I guess don't look like you mean business -- as both players did here -- then you are eligible for a free pass. Watch Kendrick Perkins in this video.
That won't satisfy Phoenix fans, and I'm not entirely certain how I feel about it, but -- consider yourself informed.
Now, on to actual basketball.
Al Horford: Great Draft Pick
I see Horford as more of a leader now than ever, and a key reason Atlanta has a shot at winning a best-of-three series against the best team in the land.
- I already wrote about how impressed I was that he was the one to calm Zaza Pachulia down after that altercation with Kevin Garnett. (Same video as the last link.) A+.
- In all honesty, after not screaming at people all season, his screaming at Paul Pierce gave his team a big-time shot in the arm. It's not what you want every game, or almost ever, but it was exactly what his team needed just then. It told everyone that the Hawks were not, in their minds, underlings.
- Al Horford called down to his college video coordinator to get a copy of the Muhammad Ali documentary "When We Were Kings" to show to his teammates to get them fired up. Are you kidding me? Are a lot of rookies even thinking about how to lift up their teammates in this way? I think not.
- He can play! Here's ESPN's David Thorpe, in his Scouts Inc. preview of tonight's game, calling for Horford to be a bigger part of the offense when it matters. "The energized crowd in Atlanta helped the Hawks crawl back into the game after they were behind early (13 points) and then again at the end of the third quarter (10). Doing so, once or twice, will be much tougher in Boston, so coach Mike Woodson has to pick three or four of his best plays to immediately go to when facing a strong Boston run. Horford inside is one, Smith in open space is a second and anything involving Johnson ranks after those two options."
Thorpe also talked a fair amount about Horford in his preview of Game 4. It makes me think Horford might have a little bit of what makes Tim Duncan such a great teammate: that "Mother Hen" instinct -- to want to make sure his teammates are all feeling good. Thorpe writes:
Boston also needs to respect Al Horford more than it has. He sometimes has gone unchecked in the paint when Boston has 'zoned up' underneath on perimeter ball screens. Both Kendrick Perkins and KG have made that mistake, resulting in a dunk or foul.
Finding Horford should be the No. 1 priority in those situations -- his hands are too good and he's too accomplished a finisher to be left unaccounted for inside. Horford was a larger part of the offense in Game 3 (only about three months late), routinely posting up and making easy kick-out passes when Boston did surround him, or hitting cutters for easy buckets. His six assists added up to 15 points, and his teammates moved smartly after the entry pass instead of standing and watching.
In many ways, Horford already is the best leader on this team. He is its spirit and has a lot of influence on Josh Smith, Atlanta's supreme X factor. Late in Game 3, when Smith seemed to relax and enjoy Atlanta's lead, it was Horford who grabbed Smith's head with both hands and talked with him for a few moments. Smith immediately stopped smiling and plugged back in to the Hawks' huddle. If Boston can
do a better job of derailing Horford, it will go a long way toward locking up Round 1.
When the playoffs started, there were two series which were clear cut. The two best teams to make the playoffs -- Boston and Detroit -- against the two worst teams to make the playoffs -- Atlanta and Philadelphia. Amazingly, those were also the only two series to even make it to 2-2. All the rest, after four games, were either finished, or 3-1.
So, what does that tell you? You can't help but get to questioning the motivation, preparation, and intensity of those top-ranked teams. Were they looking past their opponents? Did they think they could take it easy?
Detroit answered that criticism in devastating fashion in their Game 5 at home.
The Celtics come at their Game 5 led by the player who has been the very embodiment of "basketball passion" all season. They might stumble a third straight time, but it seems unlikely they'll be low-energy with this guy on the floor:
(Horford photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)