TrueHoop: Raymond Felton

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.

Knicks take advantage of flaw in Heat's D

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
1:33
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Nate Jones
ESPN Stats & Information
If "live by the three, die by the three" is the New York Knicks mantra, they're doing plenty of living against the Miami Heat.

The Knicks shot 18-of-44 on 3-point attempts against the Heat on Thursday after shooting 19-of-36 on 3-pointers against Miami earlier this season. The Knicks are the first team in NBA history to make at least 18 3-pointers in consecutive games against an opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Perhaps the Knicks know by now that the Heat have trouble defending their outside jumpers. They've only made at least 18 3-pointers twice this season, and both of those games were against the Heat.

The Knicks rely on jump shots more than any other NBA team this season. They score 47 points per game on jumpers, representing 46 percent of their points.

The Knicks have done a tremendous job passing the ball and finding open shooters on the perimeter. They've scored more points off catch-and-shoot jumpers this season than any other team (525). And 149 of their 188 catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. On Thursday, they scored 32 catch-and-shoot points, including 10 of their 18 3-pointers.

Not only have they attempted the most catch-and-shoot jump shots this season, but they're also shooting them at the highest effective field-goal percentage (57).

Plain and simple, the Knicks are deadly from the perimeter and they have lots of shooters. Steve Novak, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace all rank in the top 100 of the league this season in catch-and-shoot points.

Novak is tied for second with 119 catch-and-shoot points, which accounts for all but 20 of his points this season. All but one of Novak's catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. He has only dribbled the ball on one of his 40 3-pointers this season.

Novak took advantage with 18 points against the Heat, one off his season high. He has scored at least 17 four times this season, and two of those games came against Miami.

Clearly, the Knicks are a dangerous outside shooting team. So it makes sense that when they meet one of the worst teams at defending perimeter jumpers, they'd have an advantage.

The Heat tend to leave shooters open. They've allowed the fourth-most unguarded catch-and-shoot jump shots this season. They're only contesting 31 percent of their opponents' catch-and-shoot jumpers, the fifth-lowest percentage in the league.

Overall, the Heat are allowing the fourth-highest effective field-goal percentage on jump shots (48).

It seems as though the Heat are daring teams to shoot 3-pointers. They're allowing more than 25 3-point attempts per game this season, the most in the league.

With that philosophy, it's no coincidence that the Knicks -- a prolific shooting team -- have the Heat's number.

Thursday's 20-point loss was the Heat's worst home loss with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all playing together.

Inside the shot chart: Nets 'D' in the paint

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
1:10
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
One of the statistical points of interest from the Brooklyn Nets win over the New York Knicks on Monday night was its defense against the Knicks in the paint.

The Knicks were 13-for-21 in the paint in the first half and had shot 59 percent on their shots in the paint over the previous three games.

But in the last 29 minutes, the Knicks ability to score inside completely changed. Finishing in the paint became almost impossible. The Nets outscored them 30-14 in that span, including 18-2 in the third quarter

As you can see in the image above, the Knicks shot 7-for-24 in the paint in the second half.

Carmelo Anthony, who was 4-for-6 in the paint in the first half, was 1-for-5 in it in the second half.

Raymond Felton missed all 10 of his shots in the paint for the game, an area in which he entered having made half of his shots (37-for-74) this season.

Five of those misses came in the second half, including two, sandwiched around a turnover, in a 90-second span with just under seven minutes remaining.

He was partly absolved of blame because the Knicks scored on both of his missed opportunities.

But he then airballed an 11-footer that would have put the Knicks up three with less than 90 seconds left.

Rasheed Wallace, who entered a 68 percent paint-based shooter for the season (17-for-25) was 0-for-4 for the game as well.

The Nets got shredded for 63 percent shooting in the paint by the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors in the final two games of their West Coast swing.

But since returning home, they’ve held their last two opponents to 45 percent shooting in the lane, including the Knicks' 20-for-45.

Friday Bullets

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
5:39
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • LeBron James rang up 12 assists in Denver on Thursday night, and was deadly on the kickout to spot-up shooters. The biggest dime of the night came in the closing minute with the game in the balance. James could've played one-on-three against the Nuggets' collapsing defense. Instead, he dished the ball off to Norris Cole who was wide open and drained the shot. What did critics have to say about James' passing up the big shot? Not a thing. What a difference a ring makes.
  • So let's get this straight: The Clippers are without Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are playing career-low minutes -- and Griffin's overall numbers are down. Lamar Odom has a Player Efficiency Rating that starts with zero. Their backup point guard, nicknamed Mini-LeBron and posting a PER of 22.6, is playing fewer minutes than Willie Green. All the while, the Clippers are killing the competition.
  • At the New York Times, Beckley Mason writes that the Boston Celtics provide an interesting template for the Brooklyn Nets.
  • Tom Ziller of SB Nation on the Knicks: "I don't get the sense this is a massive house of cards, unlike other teams that blaze off to incredible starts. Among the rotation players, only Smith and Kidd are playing way over their heads, and that's all related to the above-mentioned shooting. Felton has been surprisingly good compared with last season, but it's in line with what he did in his previous half-season in New York. It's not a Mike James bargain with the devil type of start he's having. Ronnie Brewer has always been solid. Rasheed Wallace is ... Rasheed Wallace. Tyson Chandler is elite. Carmelo Anthony is very good. Mike Woodson is criminally underrated as a coach."
  • Is that a Raymond Felton sighting, shredding the Spurs on the pick-and-roll?
  • A bad bench can undo a lot of hard work by your starters.
  • Just because you hit a huge game-winning shot to beat the Lakers earlier in the week doesn't mean you're exempt from household chores.
  • Damian Lillard is looking for a Portland-based barber. Lucky for him, grooming is optional in Multnomah County.
  • At 0-7, the Wizards have a ton of question marks. Could Shaun Livingston be one of the answers?
  • One idea being floated in Milwaukee: Scarf down a double-cheeseburger to help pay for a new arena. (Hat tip: Bucksketball)
  • As HoopChalk's Jared Dubin points out, a sniper doesn't always have to catch-and-shoot the ball coming off a pin-down. Passing is almost always an option -- and a smart one.
  • Liberty Ballers' Michael Levin reports that the 76ers are close to becoming the latest NBA team to own their own D-League franchise. I love the idea of the NBA replicating an MLB-style minor league structure, with each big-league team having its own exclusive affiliation with a "AAA" club. Already, the stigma of being "sent down" to the D-League is dissipating. Many of NBA organizations that have one-to-one partnerships with D-League franchises are using them as laboratories to teach their less refined young prospects the system run by the big club (see Houston Rockets). Development has long been sorely lacking at the NBA level. Some of that is the fault of NBA teams, but much of the shortfall is circumstance. It's hard to devote a ton of resources to developing the skills of your second-round pick when you're preparing for a back-to-back with the Thunder and the Spurs. But give a prospect some high-grade instruction down on the farm, and you're likely to see more tangible progress in his game.
  • More vegan propaganda from John Salley. I've been dabbling myself. If there were more joints like this in my city, it would be easier.

Knicks working their strengths

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
2:29
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
New York Knicks
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks cracked the code?

The Olympics are an interesting laboratory for the NBA's best players. International basketball long ago embraced small-ball systems, and the composition of the U.S. roster this summer invited the Americans to follow suit once again.

For Carmelo Anthony, this meant playing the power forward spot, a decision that everyone in the known universe not named Carmelo Anthony has been prescribing as a way to advance his stagnant career.

Anthony had been reluctant. In his defense, it's not as if he's the first small forward to resist change. It took LeBron James eight years to buy in, and Rudy Gay is still skittish about sliding over to the 4 when Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol takes a seat.

This season with the Knicks, Anthony has logged exactly one of his 226 minutes as a small forward. One minute! You can barely heat a Pop-Tart in one minute.

Anthony's other 225 minutes have been at power forward. What has this done for his individual numbers?

Not much. He's logging a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.08, virtually identical to last season and his lowest mark since his sophomore season in the NBA.

But what are his team's efficiency numbers offensively? 111.6 -- tops in the league. You can go inside the numbers with Bradford Doolittle here.

Anthony's move to power forward has allowed Mike Woodson to get more efficient lineups and players on the floor. J.R. Smith's playing time is up seven minutes from last season, and he is rewarding the Knicks with a PER of 23.38. A leaner Raymond Felton can play alongside Jason Kidd in the backcourt -- both are shooting extremely well from the outside -- and Felton's numbers have improved.

Anthony's adjustment to the 4 gets defensive ace and off-ball maven Ronnie Brewer substantial playing time. The four most common lineups with Brewer are defensive juggernauts. Nobody in the NBA who has played more minutes and posted a better defensive rating. Brewer is also posting tremendous numbers on the offensive end. As one of the premier cutters in the game, he has introduced an element of deception and motion to a Knicks offense that was stuck in the mud last season.

On Thursday night, the Knicks roared back to beat the Spurs in San Antonio. After the game, Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson had this to say:
I think last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots. This year he’s trusting his teammates, and it’s shown out there, especially tonight. It’s amazing how they went from two guys shooting all the balls to a team that everybody has confidence in everybody else.

"On offense, they are playing together, and guys are accepting roles around their strengths," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

It's important to note that Anthony had a poor statistical night in San Antonio. He scored nine points, shot 3-for-12 from the field and went to the line for only four attempts in 41 minutes -- though he did collect 12 rebounds.

But let's focus on Jackson's comment. "Last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots." Know how many times Anthony took 12 shots or fewer when he played 30 minutes or more in 2011-12? Twice.

Phenomenons like these always remind me of something legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons said a few years ago. Back when sabermetricians identified on-base percentage as one of the most undervalued statistics in baseball, there was a tendency among a small slice of devoted statheads to treat players who didn't draw walks as terminal cases.

Gammons, who was by no means dismissive of analytics, was quick to point out that strike-zone judgment could be learned. If a major league player identified that as a weaker element of his game, he could teach himself the skill. He might never lead the league in walks, but he could become a measurably more valuable batter.

Anthony has never been one to draw walks, so to speak, and he probably hasn't been called coachable in years. But what if he can teach himself how to take pitches? What if he can, at 28, pick up the nuances that allow scorers to make their teammates and themselves more efficient?

Jeremy Lin's contract in perspective

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
4:30
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Is three years and $25 million too much to pay Jeremy Lin?

If he's a starting-quality guard, that rate seems to be about average. Below is a sample of what starting point guards earn in the NBA. Where does Jeremy Lin, with a contract averaging 8.4 million a year, fit in?
  • Chris Paul, $17.79 million
  • Deron Williams, avg $20 million
  • Derrick Rose, $15.5 million
  • Russell Westbrook, $12.9 million
  • Tony Parker, $12.5 million
  • Rajon Rondo, $11 million
  • Jose Calderon, $10.5 million
  • Steve Nash, $9 million
  • Rodney Stuckey, $8.5 million
  • Goran Dragic, $8.5 million
  • Devin Harris, $8.5 million
  • George Hill, $8 million
  • Mike Conley, $7.3 million
  • Kyle Lowry, $5.8 million
  • Jarrett Jack, $5.4 million
  • Andre Miller, $5 million
  • Luke Ridnour, $4 million
  • Ray Felton, $3.3 million

At 23 and still improving, it’s fair to say that he Lin's potential is worth more than the likes of Jarrett Jack and Andre Miller -- two steady, helpful veterans with no upside. In his 26 game stint as a starter he posted a better PER than George Hill, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic and Rajon Rondo.

PER is just a baseline statistic. Still, it’s a good indicator that Lin can play. But let’s say that Lin doesn’t produce like he did when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were injured and thus left him with bountiful opportunities to find shots for himself and others. Even if he settles into being a solid starting point guard for the next few years -- remember he’s younger and has had less time to develop in the NBA than Conley, Dragic and Hill -- that would be good value.

The only players who produced like Lin last season and make less than the Rockets were willing to pay Lin were all either on rookie scale contracts or named Kyle Lowry. And Lowry is due for a raise.

When it comes to useful starting point guards you didn't draft, it’s almost impossible to find one that will be cheaper than the price the Rockets set for Lin. Because they are capped out, the Knicks can't acquire another point guard through free agency at Lin's cost, and they also lack a first-round draft pick in 2013. So it's not a choice between Lin and another $8 million per year point guard, it's between Lin and whatever they can shoehorn into Kidd or Felton's $3 million salary spot, sign on a minimum deal, or trade for.

Long story short: Instead of paying Lin the going rate for a starting point guard, the Knicks ended up signing Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, two players who ranked at the bottom of starting point guards in the NBA, for nearly equivalent cost next season.

All but three point guards (Lowry, Jarrett Jack and Jordan Farmar) with a PER above league average (15.0) make $8 million or more.

This is a simple fact of the NBA marketplace.

Felton over Lin? Might be a mistake

July, 15, 2012
7/15/12
12:03
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Info
Archive
Debby Wong/US PresswireJeremy Lin might not be playing in a Knicks uniform anymore.
Are the New York Knicks making a mistake if they let Jeremy Lin go, and proceed with Raymond Felton as their starting point guard?

From a pure basketball perspective, the numbers say yes, they are.

ISOLATION

Isolation plays are where Lin excels. He scored the third most points per play of the 91 players with at least 75 isolation plays last season, trailing only Chris Paul and James Harden. Felton ranked 68th.

Felton turned the ball over on isolation plays more than twice as often as Lin, who committed just six turnovers on his 93 isolation plays. And only Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh and Harden got to the free throw line more often than Lin on isolation plays.

PICK-AND-ROLL

Among the 41 players who were the ball-handler on at least 200 pick-and-roll plays last season, Felton scored the fourth-fewest points per play. Only John Wall, Rajon Rondo and Jamal Crawford were worse. Lin, who ranked 26th, got to the free throw line nearly three times as often as Felton on those plays.

JUMPERS OFF THE DRIBBLE

Despite shooting just 33 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers last season, Lin shot 48 percent on jumpers off the dribble.

Of the 102 players who attempted at least 90 jumpers off the dribble, only Stephen Curry and Steve Nash shot a higher field goal percentage than Lin. Felton ranked 85th of those 102 players, shooting just 33 percent.

PASSING

Felton and Lin both passed the ball on most of their pick-and-roll plays. And both players’ teammates had nearly the same field goal percentage and points per play on those passes. Felton passed it to the roll men more often, while Lin hit the cutters and spot-up shooters more often.

Felton passed the ball more often on isolation plays than Lin, who was better at passing to cutters, resulting in a higher field goal percentage and more points per play by his teammates on those passes. But with Lin’s high efficiency on isolation plays, it may not be such a bad thing that he passes the ball on only 17 percent of his isolation plays.

DEFENSE


So if Lin seems to be the better offensive player, for the Knicks to justify this move, they must think Felton is the better defender, right? That may not be the case.

Lin held opponents to fewer points per play and a lower field goal percentage (37.8) last season than Felton (41.6). Of the 235 players to defend at least 300 plays, Lin ranked 78th in fewest points per play, while Felton ranked 133rd.

LIN BETTER OFF WITH KNICKS

Why is Lin better off with the Knicks than the Rockets?

Isolation plays are Lin’s bread and butter. He’s among the best in the league. No team had more isolation plays last season than the Knicks. Isolation plays accounted for 17 percent of the Knicks' offense, the highest such percentage in the league.

The Rockets, meanwhile, ranked 22nd in isolation plays, which accounted for just 9 percent of their offense. The Knicks had nearly twice as many isolation plays as the Rockets.

CONCLUSION

Based on the above analysis using Synergy Sports Technology, it seems that Lin would be the better choice for the Knicks. And Lin might not thrive in Houston the way he would in New York.

What's wrong with the Knicks?

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
4:51
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
On Wednesday, the New York Knicks dropped a game to the Charlotte Bobcats, 118-110, to drop to 2-4 on the season and now sit four games back of the Miami Heat atop the Eastern Conference.

Three areas stand out for reasons for the Knicks’ early-season struggles.

Tyson Chandler: Not Helping?
The Knicks acquired Tyson Chandler to help their defense. Unfortunately, not only has the team performed better on defense when Chandler is not on the floor, he’s also had a depressing performance on the team’s offense. The Knicks put up a better points per 100 possessions, both offensively and defensively, when Chandler is not in the game.

If we look at it from a broader perspective, the Knicks’ overall numbers have not improved, either.

Two areas in which one would expect Chandler to have a significant impact would include, naturally, points allowed as well as rebound rate. The Knicks have not improved relative to the league in either of those categories. They've dropped from 21st to 23rd in the league in defensive efficiency, and have remained 28th in rebound rate.

Carmelo Anthony: Not a Savior?
Presumably, one of the reasons the Knicks went out and acquired Carmelo Anthony was because they viewed him as a franchise cornerstone, difference-maker type player. While no one doubts his scoring prowess, it’s fair to question whether he has a tangible impact on a team’s ability to win games.

Over the last two seasons, the Knicks are two games over .500 before acquiring Anthony, and two games under after Anthony became a Knick. Their points scored, allowed and field goal percentage are virtually the same before and after Anthony.

The Denver Nuggets, on the other hand, are 23-9 since trading Carmelo Anthony, after sitting at 32-25 last season before trading their superstar. Only the Bulls have a better record since Feb. 22, 2011, the date of the trade.

Amar'e Stoudemire: Hurt by Point Guards?
Amare Stoudemire
Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudemire predates both Chandler and Anthony in New York, but it appears he’s being hurt by point guard play that has dropped off since last season.

With Toney Douglas this season, Stoudemire is averaging 5.3 shots in the restricted zone per 36 minutes. Last season, with Raymond Felton on the floor, Stoudemire was averaging 7.2 of those shots per 36 minutes.

His scoring, field goal percentage and free throw attempts per game have also dropped off this season with Douglas on the floor compared to his numbers last season with Felton.

This has matched scouting reports, that Douglas is more of a scoring point guard who may have trouble setting up teammates.

LaMarcus Aldridge: problem solver

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
10:28
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
LaMarcus Aldridge
Jonathan Ferrey/NBAE/Getty Images
LaMarcus Aldridge on the joys of working with Andre Miller, "It's crazy playing with him!"

Being a big man in the NBA is an exercise in problem solving.

A defender is fronting you and preventing an easy entry pass from your point guard? Problem. You're getting double-teamed the instant you catch a pass down low? Another problem. The defense is rotating along the baseline before you can get into your move? That's a problem too.

For most of LaMarcus Aldridge's career in high school and college, the solution to most of these problems was pretty simple. Aldridge would get the ball just off the left block, then bang his man into submission with his left shoulder. A couple of dribbles, rise and release -- sometimes with a right hook, at other times with a turnaround jumper.

Finding his shot wasn't all that difficult because he never had to look very hard for it. But NBA defenses have a way of complicating that process. They'll send ridiculously big guys on a one-way fare from the weak side baseline to your left shoulder before you even catch the ball. And banging your primary defender isn't nearly as much fun when he's got 25 pounds on you, which many of Aldridge's counterparts did.

Aldridge was still effective over his first few seasons in Portland, but there were nights when he'd allow a more rugged defender or a targeted defensive game plan to frustrate him. If his shot wasn't there, it wasn't there. And there wasn't much he could do about it, he thought.

But last season, Aldridge's game blossomed. It wasn't just that he became more comfortable challenging defenders one-on-one in the low post. Aldridge started to find shots in places he never bothered to look. He began the process of problem-solving.

On Tuesday night, Aldridge dominated the Thunder during Portland's big road win in Oklahoma City. He scored 30 points on 10 for 19 shooting from the field, and a 10-for-12 effort at the stripe.

Was it effortless? No. Aldridge worked for those points. When Nick Collison stood his ground, absorbing every one of those left shoulder bumps as Aldridge tried to back him in, the ball was kicked back up top to Raymond Felton. Then, before the Thunder's ball-side defense could regroup, Aldridge laid out a screen for Felton on Russell Westbrook, then spun on his right foot and took off for the hoop. Easy pocket pass, then a nifty reverse finish for Aldridge after sealing off the baseline against Nazr Mohammad.

Throughout the early season, we've seen Aldridge kill opponents with 'Plan Bs.' Take the game at Sacramento last week, when a defiant Chuck Hayes kept pushing Aldridge off his favorite spot on the left side. What did Aldridge do? He flashed to the foul line, where Felton fed him for some easy face-up jump shots. Problem solved.

If you ask Aldridge why it seems as if he's having an easier time identifying opportunities he might not have seen a couple years back, he'll tell you it's a process of maturation.

"It’s growth," Aldridge said on Sunday night in Los Angeles. "I know I have to get touches and I know I have to score. So if they’re double-teaming me, I know that, if I duck in, I can get my jump hook more easily."

Reps matter, as does playing alongside a vet like Marcus Camby, whom Aldridge credits for helping him understands the intricacies of the Big Man Arts. But Aldridge reserves his most generous praise for former Portland point guard Andre Miller.

When Aldridge would encounter impossible situations on the floor, Miller would address him during a timeout with specific directions out of the bog.

"He not only knows where to find you, he’ll tell you where to go," Aldridge said.

Miller doesn't like to talk, which Aldridge said made those instructions even more consequential. If Miller felt strongly enough to offer counsel, it was for a reason.

"Teams are fronting me or double-teaming me…he was like, ‘Don’t fight it. Just go to the rim, I’ll find you,’" Aldridge said. "And I was like, ‘I can’t even see you,’ And he said, ‘Just go to the rim. I’ll throw it there.’"

That little bit of advice helped Aldridge perfect his crafty spin move to the rim, where he catches a lob, then throws it down.

"There was a game at home -- I think against Orlando. I was getting double-teamed on the catch and I had, like, zero shots going into the second quarter. Andre said, ‘This time don’t even fight. Just go to the rim.’ So I slipped to the rim and ..."

Aldridge had a big smile on his face as he punctuated the sequence. He then shook his head.

"It’s crazy playing with [Miller]," Aldridge said.

Early on, Aldridge has been pleased with Felton, Miller's replacement -- particularly in pick-and-roll play. But Aldridge recognizes that it will take some time before the two cultivate the kind of chemistry he had with Miller.

When told that Miller consistently ranks at the top of the list of guards who rack up quality assists and improve the field goal percentage of his teammates, Aldridge wasn't the least bit surprised. These are rarified stats that don't pop up in box scores -- very few casual observers know this stuff. Most players probably don't even know it.

“But the big knows it!" Aldridge said. "I know it!”

The grittier side of Lob City

January, 2, 2012
1/02/12
2:03
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- If Lob City is going to be a functioning municipality, then it's going to need some law and order. Every day can't be a celebratory parade or a civic orgy. Somebody has to sweep the streets, fill the potholes and pick up the garbage.

During the first week of the season, the Los Angeles Clippers delivered spectacle and frills, and entered Sunday's action as the NBA's most efficient offense. Unfortunately, the Clippers' defense was every bit as putrid as their offense was prolific. They knew they’d need a couple of weeks to craft a coherent defensive game plan, but they never imagined that they’d rank dead last in the NBA defensively a week into the season, giving up an unsightly 113.3 points per 100 possessions.

On Sunday night, the Clippers showed signs of life on the defensive end in their 93-88 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. The sellout crowd was treated to its fair share of acrobatics above the rim courtesy of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but the Clippers fought this game in the trenches for 36 minutes, then weathered a scintillating 36-point fourth quarter by Portland to hold on.

"I thought we did a good job limiting their easy baskets as much as possible," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "They got behind our defense a couple of times in the fourth quarter, but overall I thought that was an important part of the game for us."

The Clippers applied tough ball pressure on the Trail Blazers for three quarters, something that was notably absent from losses to San Antonio and Chicago last week. For the game, the Clippers logged 25 deflections -- an average effort for the team generally falls in the 15 range.

"We were in them the whole time," Griffin said. "We were on top of them, getting loose balls, getting steals, deflections. A deflection forces them to have to take a tough shot at the end of the shot clock. It's huge."

Portland is an efficient offensive club that opened the season with three straight wins, but it's not really a rhythm team in the classical sense. The Trail Blazers rely on a lot of pin-downs and pick-and-pop plays for LaMarcus Aldridge, with a few flex cuts sprinkled in to get their wings some open looks. The Clippers denied the Trail Blazers easy passes to Aldridge and forced 21 turnovers on the night -- much of the credit due to center Jordan. On the rare occasions when that intense pressure yielded penetration, the Clippers' back-line defenders were prompt to rotate. The Trail Blazers couldn't find anything in the half court and Clippers held a 69-52 lead after three quarters.

That's when the trouble began for Los Angeles, as Portland began to work away at the deficit. Nicolas Batum wreaked havoc off the ball (with a nifty baseline cut), as a spot-up shooter (two silky 3-pointers) and in transition (a breakaway slam off a deflection). Jamal Crawford scored 13 points on a combination of long jumpers and foul shots courtesy of his patented kick motion.

By the time Raymond Felton burned the Clippers on a couple of pick-and-rolls -- one resulting in an easy weak-side jumper by Aldridge, the other when he squirted to the hole past a backpedaling Jordan -- a laugher had morphed into a 5-point game and it grew only closer from there.

"In the fourth quarter when Jamal was getting loose, we did a poor job [defensively]," Griffin said. "We just have to bridge the gap and make it a four-quarter thing."

The win was anything but seamless, as the Clippers wobbled defensively and failed to find clean looks on the other end. Caron Butler, who scored 19 points on the night, missed a pair of free throws that would've extended the Clippers' lead to six points with 1:19 to play. On their next possession, the Clippers piddled around in the half court before Butler launched a contested 26-footer with the shot clock expiring. Aldridge then took an inbounds pass, and beat Jordan off the dribble on the right side with a bank shot to cut the lead to two.

Ultimately, it was Chris Paul who bailed the Clippers out on both ends. With 9.3 seconds remaining, Paul scored the final two of his 17 points and gave the Clippers a 92-88 lead. Paul split two defenders off a step-up screen from Jordan, then skated through the paint, finishing with a running bank shot from five feet.

Paul then drew the task of defending the much taller Crawford on the subsequent inbounds play. With Crawford desperately trying to find space along the perimeter, Paul pestered and harassed him. As Crawford elevated for a shot, Paul went with him and a jump ball was called.

"I know Jamal Crawford really well," Paul said. "He's an unbelievable scorer and can handle the ball like crazy."

Crawford is the all-time NBA leader in four-point plays. Was that a thought that drifted into Paul's mind?

"No question," Paul said. "I felt I just had to stay down, don't jump, and I got a deflection."

It wasn't a terribly artful win for the Clippers, who would've preferred to clamp down for 48 minutes rather than watch what they build for three quarters spring a leak. But governance is never pretty, no matter how glossy the city's marketing campaign might be.

Wednesday Bullets

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
1:58
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Kyle Weidie of Truth About It offers up a multimedia presentation of how Deron Williams tied the Wizards in knots with ball screens.
  • The Heat posted unsightly numbers against the Celtics' zone on Tuesday night but, as Zach Lowe of The Point Forward writes, the Heat had a coherent strategy to combat it: "A great example came with about 3:30 left in the game, when the Heat flashed a key potential zone antidote they used a lot: starting a possession with one of their wing stars (Dwyane Wade on this one) as the only person on one entire side of the floor (the left side in this case). That forced the Boston defense to tilt heavily to the right, where James handled the ball on the outside, near all his teammates except Wade. As LeBron dribbled, Chris Bosh flashed from the top of the three-point arc to below the foul line, drawing the man closest to Wade (Dooling) down into the paint, and forcing him to temporarily turn his back to Wade. At that exact moment, LeBron tossed a pass to Wade, who caught it on the move toward the middle of the floor, his momentum taking him the opposite direction as Boston’s defenders, including Dooling, now tilting madly from James’ side of the floor to Wade’s. Wade did not hestitate: With Dooling wrong-footed, Wade drove into the paint, where Dooling fouled him. Without a shot, the play almost vanishes from game logs everywhere, but it represents one key way the Heat can combat a zone; both James and Wade got layups against it out of action just like this."
  • Historiographers have identified the origins of sports panic -- the phenomenon dates back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th Century. Is it time to panic in Boston?
  • Tony Allen kindly asks that you set up your voicemail already.
  • You should buy the full 2011-12 PDF from Basketball Prospectus, but if you want the crib notes from Kevin Pelton -- a single paragraph and projected record for each of the 30 teams -- click here.
  • An interview with Clippers vice president of basketball operations Neil Olshey at Yahoo! Radio.
  • Be Milwaukee!
  • The Trail Blazers are 2-0 and when you take inventory of LaMarcus Aldridge's versatility as a big man and the smart pieces around them, they look primed for a pretty decent season. Tom Ziller of SB Nation: "[T]he way in which the Blazers have played, mixing the tough defense you know Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews will bring with the smooth scoring ability of LaMarcus Aldridge and deft shooting of Matthews and Nicolas Batum, mixed with able playmaking from Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby -- despite the caveats and despite the great misfortune of losing Brandon Roy forever and Greg Oden for a while longer, Portland looks like a real contender in the West."
  • The Bucks led the Timberwolves 94-84 with under 4:00 remaining. Then Minnesota ripped off an 8-0 run to close the deficit to two points. The lineup on the floor for the Timberwolves? Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Anthony Tolliver. Zach Harper describes the final play call of a frustrating night for Minnesota: "Finding themselves down three with seven seconds left, they devised a play without much action away from the ball to free up Kevin Love for the game-tying attempt. Love set a down screen for Luke which enabled Luke to catch the ball roughly 35 feet from the basket. Love then set a screen for Wes near the top of the arc and then ran to the other win. Luke took two dribbles passed it to Love and he took a contested 3-pointer with four seconds left. It was one of the most basic plays you would ever find coming out of a timeout and it resulted in Love taking a contested 26-footer to try to tie the game."
  • Bret LaGree of Hoopinion on Joe Johnson: "Can still get anywhere he wants on the floor, presuming where he wants to get isn't within 15 feet of the basket."
  • Want to talk Pacers-Raps after tonight's game? Visit with Jared Wade and Tim Donahue on Pacers Talk Live at Eight Points, Nine Seconds.
  • Ricky Davis will start his NBA comeback as a Red Claw.
  • NBA commentators put Google+ hangout to use.

‘Melo set to take a bite out of the Big Apple

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
4:01
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Carmelo Anthony
Anthony
After weeks of trade talk, Carmelo Anthony has apparently found a new home in the Big Apple. The Nuggets traded the star forward to the Knicks on Monday along with guard Chauncey Billups, forward Shelden Williams, guard Anthony Carter and forward Renaldo Balkman.

In return, the Knicks sent forward Wilson Chandler, guard Raymond Felton, forward Danilo Gallinari and center Timofey Mozgov to Denver. The Nuggets will also get the Knicks' 2014 1st-round pick, the Warriors' 2012 and 2013 2nd-round picks and $3 million cash.

ESPN's Chris Broussard reports the Knicks will also receive Corey Brewer from the Timberwolves and send center Eddy Curry and forward Anthony Randolph to Minnesota. The 12-player trade (not including draft picks) is tied for the second-largest trade in NBA history.

Chandler, Felton, Gallinari and Mozgov combined for 53.4 points per game this season (50.3 percent of total team scoring). The Knicks acquired a combined 50.9 points per game in the five players that they received from the Nuggets, 47.3 percent of the points that Denver had scored this season.

The Knicks gave up an awful lot to bring Anthony to town, especially when it comes to outside shooting. New York ranked among the league's best in spot-up shooting metrics, including 25.3 points per game. Chandler, Felton, Gallinari and Mozgov contributed 13.1 of those points.

In the last five minutes of games in which the score is within five points, Raymond Felton (32.4), Danilo Gallinari (30.8), and Wilson Chandler (24.0) have the three lowest FG percentages among Knick players who have attempted a shot.

Conversely, Billups and Anthony have shot a combined 43.6 percent in those situations, slightly above the league average of 41.8 percent.

When you are a scorer, you need to find different ways to provide your team with points. For Carmelo Anthony, the leak out play has been a key cog in his arsenal. He is the only NBA player who has had more than 100 leak out plays during the past five seasons (133).

Heat continue to be road warriors

January, 8, 2011
1/08/11
2:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The Bucks put up a fight Friday against the Heat, but Miami proved to be too much in overtime.

LeBron James led the way with 26 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth game this season with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. After struggling early in the season with team chemistry, the Heat continued their impressive play with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the floor at the same time, outscoring the Bucks by eight. On the season, Miami is +268 when all three play together.

Another key to the Heat's success Friday was moving the ball around in the half-court offense. On possessions in which they made two or fewer passes, they shot just 16-50 from the field and committed 10 turnovers. When they made three or more passes they shot 14-27 and committed just two turnovers.

Add it all up and the Heat are proving to have no trouble on the road of late. They have won 12 straight road games; the first team to accomplish the feat since the 2007-08 Rockets also won 12 straight on the road.

It comes as no surprise that LeBron James has sparked much of the road success. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James, who has scored 20 or more points in his last 10 road games, becomes just the second player in NBA history to accomplish the feat. Allen Iverson is the only other, scoring 20 or more in 10 straight for the 76ers in the 2000-01 season.



OTHER NOTES FROM AROUND THE NBA:

• In the loss to the Heat, Andrew Bogut grabbed 27 rebounds which set a career high as well as a record for most by a Heat opponent. The 27 rebounds are the most by a Bucks player since Swen Nater's franchise-record 33 rebounds in 1976 according to Elias.

• Two games after passing Dominique Wilkins for 10th all-time on the NBA career scoring list, Kobe Bryant scored 25 points Friday to pass Oscar Robertson for ninth all-time on the list.

• Raymond Felton had 23 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the Knicks 121-96 win over the Suns for his first career triple double. He becomes the first Knicks guard with a triple-double since Mark Jackson in the 2001-02 season.

Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and the great divorce

December, 27, 2010
12/27/10
3:18
PM ET
By Benjamin Polk
ESPN.com
Archive
In 2004 and 2005, as my Timberwolves were just beginning their long, painful shame spiral, the Phoenix Suns gave me a reason to keep on loving the NBA. There were many good reasons for this: their defiance of orthodox positionality; their feverish pace of play and relentless scoring; the palpable joy they brought to the game.

But the biggest reason the Suns enchanted me was the on-court relationship between Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire. To the casual observer, the two seem as ill-matched as a some oddball pair in a buddy comedy, and just as racially typecast. The savvy, selfless, veteran (white) tactician meets the brash, unschooled but athletically magnificent rim-crushing (black) manchild. Hilarious misunderstandings ensue.

But the reality was that Nash and Stoudemire were meant for each other; their skills intertwined in radical and breathtaking ways. And so it was incredibly sad for me when the Suns allowed the final remnants of their juggernaut to dissolve by pushing Amar’e out the door.

Even sadder was the discourse that built up around Stoudemire’s free agent signing with the Knicks. The question that posed itself was: which one of these players was more important to the other? Some folks believed that Nash would suddenly cease to be an offensive miracle worker without his finisher. But many more wondered whether Amar’e would still be Amar’e without the point guard that made him who he is. That so many of us called the Knicks’ signing of Amar’e the worst move of the summer revealed that we had bought into this way of thinking: Nash was the cerebral genius, Amar’e the muscle.

But it hasn’t really turned out that way. Amar’e’s PER of 23.1 is his best in three years. He is the league’s second-leading scorer. He is leading a Knick resurgence that is captivating the league. Subtler differences make his accomplishments even more amazing. Raymond Felton, Stoudemire’s new running mate, may be a skilled and conscientious playmaker but, like just about everybody, he lacks Nash’s miraculous gifts of vision and passing. He and Stoudemire have yet to develop a pick-and-roll rapport that even approaches the fluency of vintage Nash-Amar’e.

So this season, Stoudemire has had to bear a much greater burden of creating his own scoring opportunities, finding many of his looks from faceups and isolations (last year, 61.2% of his baskets were assisted; this year, it’s 49.2%). Even so, he’s posting a true shooting percentage of almost 58.9%, down just 1 points from last season. And when he does find himself in a pick-and-roll situation, he’s actually more efficient than he was last year. He is, in other words, a really tough cover.

Stoudemire’s departure has also had some significant effects on the Suns. Unsurprisingly, Phoenix has lacked interior scoring this year. Nash has had to generate scoring opportunities by probing the perimeter and by relying even more heavily on his astonishing ability to create (and see) passing lanes with his exploratory wanderings through the lane. That both his assist rate and scoring (in volume and in efficiency) are up this season speak to just how shockingly good the guy is.

Nevertheless, Sebastian Pruiti (with help from the Heat and their throttling D) showed us just how much easier defending Suns has become, despite Nash’s magic. Without Stoudemire, the Suns have scored three points fewer per 100 possessions. They play at a slower pace—probably because they are able to generate fewer easy points off of pick-and-rolls early in the shot clock—and get fewer shots at the rim.

More surprisingly, considering Amar’e’s well-earned reputation as a mediocre defender and rebounder (mediocre, that is, given his deluxe physical gifts), Phoenix’s defense is also nearly four points worse per 100 possessions and they grab 3% fewer rebounds; what’s more, New York’s D is 3.5 points better per 100. It seems that Stoudemire was important to the Suns in more ways than we ever understood.

As time has gone on, we’ve begun to see how these two have spilled over the boundaries of those preconceived roles. Nash has always been more physically gifted than he’s been given credit for, his performance as much a product of elite athleticism—balance, strength, dexterity, hand-eye coordination— than of anything as abstractly cognitive as “basketball IQ.”

And—especially as he’s grown as a player—Stoudemire has brought uncommon craft to the task of scoring. His ability to move in open space off the ball and to subtly maneuver his huge body around the basket is as stunning as his more gaudy above-the-rim performances.

Nash’s visionary floor game and Amar’e’s boundless skill and athleticism made the pick-and-roll, one of the most basic elements of basketball grammar, endlessly creative and endlessly productive: a thing of rare beauty. But although these two players helped create one another, they don't depend on each other to be fully formed, fully expressive players. We didn’t lose either one of them when they parted ways. What we lost was the marvelous thing they made together.

Celtics overcome Stoudemire, Felton in win

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
11:02
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The roughly 20-year hiatus of the Boston Celtics-New York Knicks rivalry was well worth the wait on Wednesday, as the Celtics hung on for a thrilling 118-116 win at Madison Square Garden. The game was full of superlative performances on both team and individual levels.

First and foremost, the Celtics extended their win streak to 11 games. While winning streaks of this nature have become almost commonplace for these Celtics, it remains impressive nonetheless. The Celtics have five 10-game win streaks since the 2007-08 season, which is two more than the next-closest team. Boston had a remarkable night shooting from all points on the floor -- the Celtics became the first team to shoot 100 percent from the free throw line, 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range since ... the Knicks. The Knicks did it more than two years ago, in November of 2008. And, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the 3-point line was introduced (1979-80), no team had ever done that against the Knicks.

The Celtics’ stars stepped up in the spotlight. In addition to hitting the game-winning shot with 0.4 seconds remaining, Paul Pierce (32 points, 10 rebounds) scored 30 or more for the first time since Jan. 29 of last season and posted his second double-double of the season, while Rajon Rondo (10 points, 14 assists) now has double-digit assists in 17 of 20 games this season.

The most impressive story, however, could be from the losing team. While the Knicks saw their eight-game win streak snapped, the team’s two offseason imports -- Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton -- continued their remarkable run of production. Stoudemire contributed 39 points and 10 rebounds while Felton chipped in 26 points and 14 assists.

Felton has recorded a double-double in seven of his last nine games and is averaging 20.3 PPG and 11.0 APG over that stretch. Stoudemire has nine consecutive games of 30-plus points and his 39 points marked the third-highest total against the Celtics since the 2007-08 season.

While the return of the rivalry is certainly one takeaway from this contest, Stoudemire’s remarkable turnaround from a slow start this season arguably stands above all. Stoudemire’s shooting was off to start the year and since the moment he’s taken off, the Knicks have, too. Stoudemire’s increase in efficiency -- note the increase from 44.8 percent shooting to 57.9 -- has put to rest the concerns that his offensive game had been detrimentally impacted by no longer playing with Steve Nash.

So while Wednesday might have ended the Knicks’ win streak, that doesn’t mean it should end the enthusiasm over the team’s start and the play of the team’s superstar.

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