TrueHoop: Tyreke Evans

Lotto teams making splash in free agency

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
11:48
AM ET
By John McTigue
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive
As the Houston Rockets and other playoff teams look to improve this offseason, there are teams just looking to get back into the playoff fold.

Below is a statistical look at some of the biggest moves made by those teams.

DETROIT PISTONS
Key Addition: Josh Smith
Last Playoff Appearance: 2008-09


Smith has been a known commodity on defense in his career, but the success of his offensive game has depended on shot selection.

Win shares estimates the number of wins a player contributed to a team based off statistical performance, and can be divided into offensive and defensive win shares.

Since 2006-07, he ranks fifth in defensive win shares, trailing three MVPs and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.

But which Smith will the Pistons get offensively?

In the 2009-10 season, Smith set career highs in field goal percentage (50.5) and offensive win shares (4.2). Smith attempted only seven 3-pointers that season, and as a result his average shot was a career-low 6.8 feet from the basket.

Since what was arguably his best offensive season, Smith has shot 46.7 percent from the field, averaging 2.1 3-pointers per game. His average shot has come 11.7 feet from the basket, and he has a combined 3.5 offensive win shares, including a minus-0.3 rating last season.

The Pistons averaged the second-most points in the paint last season (46.5 PPG) and could be a force inside with Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Key Addition: Al Jefferson
Last Playoff Appearance: 2009-10 (only appearance in franchise history)


With the acquisition of Jefferson, the Bobcats will have a major low post scorer for the first time in franchise history.

In 2008-09, Boris Diaw averaged 15.1 points per game while starting 55 games for the Bobcats at power forward. That’s the highest scoring average for a Bobcats power forward or center in franchise history.

Since leaving the Celtics in 2007, Al Jefferson has averaged 19.3 points per game, never dipping below 17.1 for a full season.

Jefferson does most of his damage inside as he was one of 13 NBA players last season to average at least 10 points in the paint per game.

The Bobcats averaged 38.6 points in the paint per game last season (24th in the NBA), with 6-foot-1 point guard Kemba Walker leading the team (6.6 paint PPG).

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Key Addition: Tyreke Evans
Last Playoff Appearance: 2010-11


Evans lost favor in Sacramento after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2009-10, but he shot a career-high 47.8 percent last season and has the ability to score inside.

Since entering the NBA, Dwyane Wade is the only guard to average more points per game inside the paint than Evans, whose 9.8 points per game in the paint ranks 13th among all NBA players over that time.

If the Pelicans choose to hang onto Eric Gordon and bring Evans off the bench, he’ll help boost a bench unit that averaged only 10.7 points inside the paint last season (23rd) despite logging the eighth-most minutes.

Bobcats are not at odds with NBA lottery

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
5:54
PM ET
By Alok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
With the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery on Wednesday (8 ET on ESPN), each non-playoff team’s fans are hoping that the ping-pong balls come out in their favor, giving them the No. 1 overall pick and a chance to select likely top choice, Anthony Davis.

Given each team's probability of winning the top pick in the lottery, here is a similar event related to that team that has approximately the same frequency.

Charlotte Bobcats (25.0 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Bobcats losing a game last season by at least 25 points. In 2011-12, the Bobcats lost 16 of 66 games (24.2 percent) of their games by at least 25 points.

Washington Wizards (19.9 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: John Wall scoring at least 24 points in a game last season.

New Orleans Hornets (14.8 percent, includes their own pick and the Timberwolves' pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Hornets winning a game by at least eight points last season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (13.8 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Kyrie Irving scoring more than 10 points in the fourth quarter of a game.

Sacramento Kings (7.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins combining for 50 points in a game last season.

Brooklyn Nets (7.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Deron Williams scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Golden State Warriors (3.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Stephen Curry scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Toronto Raptors (3.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Andrea Bargnani scoring at least 35 points in a game in 2011-12.

Detroit Pistons (1.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Greg Monroe having a 30-point, 15-rebound game last season.

Portland Trail Blazers (0.8 pecent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a half last season.

Milwaukee Bucks (0.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Brandon Jennings making five 3-point field goals in a half in 2011-12.

Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Steve Nash making 50 straight free throws during his career.

Houston Rockets (0.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: NBA team finishing two to four games above .500 and missing playoffs in three straight seasons (which the Rockets have, in fact, done the last three seasons).

Kevin Love and height liars in shoes

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
11:29
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images Kevin Love and Derrick Williams have different listed heights

Stumbled across this when I wrote of Dwight Howard as a 6-9 center. Some of you just could not accept the recorded fact that Dwight Howard is six-foot-nine. This, despite a link to evidence of Howard’s barefoot height. I was astounded, perplexed and in search of even more synonyms to describe a state of utter confusion, shock, and befuddlement. We have his pre-draft measurements--his pre-draft measurements! Why do you insist on listening to some sorcerer’s Magic listing?

Others believed that barefoot height does not matter because “in shoes” is the favored metric. I’ve heard it before, the argument goes: “They play in shoes.” I can be sympathetic to this logic line--for a second.

In-game Dwight Howard may well tower to 6-11. But, do we record NFL player height “in helmet”? Do we weigh boxers “in gloves”? Do we act like jockeys are centaurs and measure them “on horse”? Of course not, because there is no need to tweak traditional human measurements.

Moreover, there are those who aren’t listed “in shoes.” I asked around for some names of infamous height liars, and many thought Kevin Durant shaded short at 6-9. It turns out KD is just the victim of being a truth teller in a liar’s world. Per his draft combine, Durant really is a barefoot six-feet-nine-inches. But how are fans supposed to believe KD when he dwarfs a “6-9” guy who is 6-6 in real life? This is the problem with allowing a flexing metric to govern our perspective.

The good news: We have more accurate information on player height than ever before. Draft prospects used to get measured at the NBA’s pre-draft camp, an experience that was bundled with an intensive five-on-five drill. Many players eschewed the camp’s game action, so they also went unrecorded.

Starting in 2009, the NBA Combine allowed for athletes to undergo a physical while engaging in less strenuous drills. From that point forward, the data filled out--save for the occasional European prospect.

After the draft, teams got to (and get to) determine the height of their employees. This is what you see on the player card, and this is what largely informs the public idea of how tall a player is. There is a yearly physical to keep tabs, though teams rarely make changes. For example, the Warriors informed me that Andris Biedrins is their only player to receive a height alteration over the last decade, due to a spurt that took him from 6-11 to 7-0.

While I believe that teams are mostly honest in their height-recordings, the arbitrary “shoes or no shoes” allowance irks. It seems that a larger body should codify one way of doing this, rather than accept an over two-inch margin of error. And what if a team blatantly lies? I asked NBA spokesman Mike Bass about this, and he responded: “I am not aware of any instance where the team was asked (by the league) to change a player's listed height.” Perhaps I am cynical and paranoid, but I could easily envision a dystopian future where David Kahn successfully trades “7-1” Michael Beasley.

For now, teams own the means of height deduction. Despite all the hard work Jonathan Givony of Draft Express does in compiling draft height data, the almighty player card is the loudest guy at the bar. When I asked him about team listings, Givony remarked: “Generally these pre-draft measurements are ignored when the NBA puts up the player's heights on their rosters and bios online. Don't ask me why.”

My theory: That official NBA seal is mightier than established facts. At least Givony’s numbers give me a reference point for my 2011-2012 All Height Liars Team. Without ado, further:

All Height Liars Team

PG: Jose Juan Barea (“6-0”): We don’t know Barea’s real height, but J.J. looks like he could bathe in a sealed thimble. This is my only data-blind submission, but only because Barea’s height deception is so easily seen.

SG: Tyreke Evans (“6-6”): Leon Trotsky’s political strategy was to announce the next far-fetched program right as you were beginning to mobilize against his current far-fetched program. Sacramento will try to convince you that Evans is a point guard. As your brain bounces like a slapped speed bag, they’ll tell you he’s 6-6. His pre-draft height is 6-4 and unlike Trotsky, he can’t maneuver left.

SF: Thaddeus Young (“6-8”): Thad is really 6' 5.75.” I could just as easily rank Donte Greene here, but Young gets the edge on account of being a more notable player. Also notable: Three teams (Wolves, Kings, Sixers) have the market cornered on height liars. This may be because they’re replete with tweeners.

PF: Kevin Love (“6-10”): He measured at 6' 7.75," but that isn’t what makes Kevin Love’s height deception so dastardly. It’s that K-Love is photographed at the height level of a “6-8” Derrick Williams. Now some would say, “This makes his rebounding all the more impressive.” I’m not so forgiving. Turn in your World Championship trophy, you dirty heightener, you.

C: Spencer Hawes (“7-1”): He measured at 6' 10.5,” the same as Joakim Noah did. But Spencer somehow gained a two-inch advantage on Noah in the official listing. If Hawes lacks leaping ability, it could be because he’s wearing platform shoes.

...

I want accuracy, I want “in shoes” to be more unfashionable than socks with sandals. But as I look at this list, I can grasp why some cling to height vagaries, why you might prefer a “6-10” Kevin Love to an undersized striver. Disputed height provides more room for myth making, which is the essence of sports entertainment. These are the fables we tell each other, so as to inspire and awe. And if the sheer height of the giants animates our stories, can you blame people for wanting the freedom to embellish another inch or two? “In shoes,” is a license to take a man and make him Paul Bunyan. “In shoes” is so close to reality that it makes Paul Bunyan feel real.

Since he was picked in medieval times, we have no pre-draft record of Kevin Garnett’s stature. In hushed tones, basketball fans rasp, “You know, he’s really 7-1. He just hides his true height.” Perhaps he does. I would be quite disappointed to learn that there really is no psychological reason behind Garnett’s listing, that he really is a barefoot 6-11, that he only seems bigger in my mind’s eye. That one-to-three inch “in shoes” zone means a player can be tall as your imagination reasonably dictates. Even the doubt sown by a short-seeming listing can trigger Bunyan visions.

But I’m an “in socks” fanatic, congenitally averse to myth. I just want to know how tall Kevin Garnett is. And I just want you to know how tall Kevin Garnett is.

Tyreke Evans' improved vision

June, 29, 2011
6/29/11
10:57
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Archive
Tyreke Evans
Jonathan Santiago/Cowbell Kingdom
Tyreke Evans sees the big picture a lot clearer now.

The concept of vision has many different levels.

On the surface, it can simply mean how well someone reads a street sign or if they need glasses to read a book held in front of their face. Vision can also go much deeper than that. It can relate to a sense of perspective. Knowing that you should sit out a basketball game because you can see the signs of injury plaguing you, and you know your body needs to rest.

For Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings, his vision has improved over the last year, even though his eyesight is still perfect.

Teaming with VSP Vision Care, the largest not-for-profit vision insurance company in the United States, Tyreke is holding an off-season basketball camp at the Dr. Ephraim Williams Family Life Center in Sacramento, to help promote vision care to young students. The underlying theme to the camp is that you need good vision to be able to play sports and participate in everyday activities, but for Tyreke, vision goes into that deeper meaning after the past year he endured.

A little over a year ago, Tyreke Evans was coming off one of the most historic rookie seasons in NBA history. He finished with season averages of 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. It was just the fourth time in NBA history that a rookie finished with 20-5-5. Aside from a couple of turned ankles and a concussion in his rookie campaign, Tyreke was relatively healthy all season and able to impose his physical dominance on the defense almost every night.

But as he entered his sophomore NBA season, with high expectations for himself and the team he leads, Evans was already battling a dreaded plantar fasciitis injury to his left foot and trying to be tough for his team. “Just because I’m young, when I got hurt, I tried to play through it, “ Evans said as he reflects on his second season.

Tyreke did try to play through it early on and struggled while doing so. He played in 46 of the first 53 games of the 2010-11 season. While it may be unfair to call his averages of 18.3 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds in those first 46 games struggling, those were the types of expectations his rookie play brought about. He couldn’t explode to the basket in the same way he was used to, and with his struggling jump shot unable to fall, he was constantly left with a physical disadvantage.

“It was pretty hard, “ Tyreke admits. “Just knowing that I like to get to the basket, I’ve got to use that leg to push off with.”

His attempts at the rim fell from 8.4 per game his rookie year (best in the league) to 6.2 last season (ninth in the NBA). His biggest asset was now his greatest limitation. Without the ability to break down the defense whenever he needed, he and his teammates struggled mightily to get any kind of offensive continuity. The pain eventually became too much for him to endure on a nightly basis and he decided to get serious treatment.

“I used to wake up and feel like a knife was stabbing me in my foot.”

Finally, Evans sat out for about three weeks starting in mid-February and underwent shockwave therapy on his injured left foot. “Some games, I’d rest it, come back and feel better. Then I’d start playing again and it started hurting again. Once I got the treatment in LA, it stopped hurting. Now, it feels pretty good.”

For Tyreke, he looks back at this past season as a frustrating and yet invaluable lesson on how to treat your body in the NBA. He endured a pretty debilitating injury, struggled because of it, and can now use it as a learning experience on knowing when to rest his injuries.

Tyreke’s vision on the court has been questioned in his first two years as people try to figure out the exact position he should play. While he says his vision is “on point”, many critics question his ability to see the court and find open guys. But even before the Kings drafted Jimmer Fredette, Evans was talking about playing off the ball more and trying to round out his game.

Last summer, he was making sure to work on his weakness of having a suspect jumper and getting his body in better shape after an initial month of off-season rest. In retrospect, maybe it was sort of a myopic viewpoint on what he needed to do to improve on a stellar start to his career.

This summer, he hasn’t taken any time off and continues to work on his all-around game. He doesn’t give any focus when you ask him what he’s working on. The answer is simply “everything.”

I think that’s where you see the growth with Tyreke now from Tyreke one year ago. There aren’t any nearsighted viewpoints on what he needs to do, what his team needs to do, or how they need to go about it. Not just one thing will make him better, nor will one single thing make his team better. It’s simply all about becoming better everywhere.

He’s learned from his injury that looking at the bigger picture down the road is what’s best for everybody around him and in the Kings organization. For a young player who has had early individual success, it shows a pretty special form of vision.

Everybody should be able to see it clearly on the court next season.

7 curious things about the upcoming season

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
8:32
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images Sport
Forget about the hoopla in Miami, and let's talk about the basketball.


The basketball in Miami
The concentration of talent in Miami has created a dramatic storyline the NBA hasn't seen in years. In late October, the narrative will finally give way to live basketball, as the offseason machinations fade into the background. Fans and observers can debate whether a team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is healthy for the NBA, and the Heat's first final-possession scenario will likely launch silly arguments about who rightfully deserves to be called "the man" in Miami. Lost in the cacophony of hysteria is the single most fascinating question headed into the 2010-11 season: What will the Miami Heat's 94 or so possessions look like on a nightly basis? How will James play off Wade and vice versa? How do you defend a Wade-James pick-and-roll? Will we see a lineup of Eddie House, Wade, Miller, James and Bosh (talk about the end of positional orthodoxy!)? Will Bosh benefit from the disproportionate attention opposing defenses will have to devote to the perimeter? And how will Bosh handle the more workaday duties of being the big man down low? However you feel about what's transpired since the beginning of July, the experiment being assembled in Miami is a basketball lover's dream. If you find Miami's personnel unlikable, then root like hell for the opposing defense. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

The blueprint in Oklahoma City
The Thunder emerged last season as the most promising young outfit in the NBA. They finished with 50 wins and gave the Lakers their toughest Western Conference playoff series. Then, this offseason, they extended a max contract to Kevin Durant and fortified their bright young core by adding Morris Peterson, Daequan Cook and first-round draft pick Cole Aldrich. In some sense, general manager Sam Presti's decision to essentially stand pat might have been one of the the boldest move of the offseason. Many executives with a talented core and some money to spend would've committed to a high-dollar addition, but Presti stayed the course. He's banking that the maturation of Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, James Harden and Serge Ibaka will continue and vault the Thunder over of the scrum in the Western Conference. Is he being realistic? Can the Thunder ride a frontcourt of Green, Nenad Krstic, Ibaka, Nick Collison and Aldrich into the ranks of the NBA elite? Can a team that sustained no major injuries last season decline to add a single major pieces and still pick up 5-10 wins? The answer to these questions will give us an idea of how much "upward trajectory" is worth in the NBA.


Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images Sport
Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire: Beautiful while it lasted


The power of Nash
Amare Stoudemire provides us with one of the best controlled experiments in recent years.
Watching him run the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash in Phoenix for eight years, we grew to regard Stoudemire as one of the most prolific power forwards of his generation. In New York, Stoudemire will benefit from the presence of coach Mike D'Antoni, who conceived many of the schemes that enabled him to flourish, but will be without Nash for the first time since 2004. How will swapping out Raymond Felton for Nash affect Stoudemire's game? Back in Phoenix, a 36-year-old Nash will have to replicate what he did during his 2005-06 MVP season when Stoudemire missed virtually 79 games -- cobble together an offense with imperfect parts. How Stoudemire performs without Nash as his dance partner and how Phoenix fares with an offense that will be more reminiscent of their 2005-06 season -- when Nash maximized the versatility of Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw and Raja Bell -- will tell us a lot about Nash's enormous impact on the game he plays as beautifully as anyone.

The defense in Chicago
The Boston Celtics' return to the NBA's upper echelon was predicated first and foremost on their defense. They unleashed a pressurized force field designed and implemented by Tom Thibodeau, and ultimately adopted by other teams around the league, including the Los Angeles Lakers. This June, the Bulls tapped Thibodeau to fill their head coaching vacancy. He joins a Bulls team that put together a strong defensive season last season, finishing 10th in efficiency. Skeptics might look at Derrick Rose -- whose defensive instincts are a far cry from Rajon Rondo -- and Carlos Boozer and conclude that Thibodeau doesn't have the personnel to succeed the way he did in Boston. Yet in 2007, Thibodeau took a quintet that featured Ray Allen (who had a horrendous defensive reputation coming from Seattle), an undisciplined big man in Kendrick Perkins, a second-year point guard in Rajon Rondo who'd started only 25 games and made them one of the best defensive units in basketball. With Joakim Noah anchoring the interior, the lanky tandem of Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer on the wings, Boozer's sharp basketball IQ and Rose's gifts, Thibodeau should have the tools to sculpt a top-5 defense. If the Bulls buy in, we'll have a better understanding whether Thibodeau's kind of tactical expertise is transferable -- and an inkling of just how dangerous the Bulls could be.

The reign in Los Angeles
A calm has set in over Los Angeles, where the Lakers went about their offseason business with all the fanfare of a routine annual checkup. While the rest of the basketball universe was focused in on LeBron James and south Florida, the Lakers quietly added veterans Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff and re-upped head coach Phil Jackson. Even when the Lakers were stringing together three consecutive titles at the beginning of the millennium, there was always a swirl of intrigue surrounding the club. That's no longer true, as the Lakers have assumed a posture of professional incumbency the league hasn't seen in quite some time. Will the Lakers ride the precision of their system, the collective experience and poise of their core and the natural attributes of their defense to a fourth straight Finals appearance? Barring serious injury, is there anything that can disrupt the Lakers' rhythm? Is a successful formula ever in danger of becoming predictable?

The patience in Portland
Before the Oklahoma City Thunder became next year's model, the Portland Trail Blazers were on the brink of creating something special. The sketch of a winner was stenciled on the Rose Garden floor -- an all-powerful wing primed to take big shots, a talented power forward oozing with finesse, a defensive and rebounding force in the middle and smart supporting players who embraced their roles. Injuries and disruption turned the 2009-10 campaign into a holding pattern, but the pieces are still in place for the Trail Blazers to achieve. Health remains a concern, as Greg Oden will try to return from a fractured left patella. But if the big man can log 2,000 minutes, Portland should be able to complement their Top-1o offense with the kind of dogged rebounding and efficient defense that made them a popular No. 2 pick headed into last season. The question those with an affection for Portland don't want to ask is, how bright is the team's future if he can't?

The possibility of youth
The appeal of the league's top-rated rookies runs much deeper than individual performance. Their presence can ripple beyond whatever spot on the floor they happen to occupy. Blake Griffin not only has the power to explode to the rim every time he touches the ball, but he also has the potential to transform Baron Davis into the joyful point guard the world fell in love with in the spring of 2007. John Wall's well-honed instincts won't just fill up the box score, but also could revive a fan base in Washington that was teased with meaningful basketball a few years ago, only to watch their franchise return to the wilderness. DeMarcus Cousins could become the Kings' more formidable presence in the frontcourt since Chris Webber left, but more important, he and Tyreke Evans have a chance to redefine what big-small combos can do in the rapidly changing pro game. "Upside" is a word thrown around a lot in June, but watching that potential unfold produces unique findings. And that's why we watch.

Wednesday Bullets

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
2:10
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Saturday Bullets

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
11:39
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Matching up with the 2010 All-Stars

February, 11, 2010
2/11/10
1:58
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Lisa Blumenfeld/NBAE via Getty Images
Could a team with this tandem give the All-Star squads a game?

The All-Star Game is a collection of the best basketball talent in the world, but it rarely produces anything resembling the best basketball. Counter-intuitive as that might seem, the reasons for this annual letdown are fairly obvious. Chauncey Billups recited some of them following the lackluster 2007 All-Star Game, everything from fear of injury to exhaustion from the weekend's festivities.

Could there be other factors that keep this collection of talent from playing beautiful, or even watchable, basketball? In a highly functional basketball unit, do certain players need to defer to other players, something that's difficult to demand of the world's premier scorers? Are teams loaded with this kind of firepower vulnerable to the pitfalls that might have doomed USA Basketball in 2002, 2004 and 2006?

These questions got us thinking: Is it possible to assemble a roster of non-All-Stars that could challenge the teams taking the floor in Dallas on Sunday?

We asked the bloggers in the TrueHoop Network to participate in our high-grade parlor game.

In sculpting our roster, we came up with a few basic questions. What kind of players would you look for? Do you tap the best of the remainders who were left off the rosters (snubs like Josh Smith and Nene)? Knowing you're outgunned, is it better to adopt the principles of guerrilla warfare and engage in a less traditional brand of combat? To that end, are there specific skill sets you should look for?

A few criteria and common themes emerged:

Defense and Rebounding

  • Bret LaGree of Hoopinion: "Defense and rebounding would ... be vital, both to limit the efficiency of the All-Stars and to rebound as many missed shots as possible. If the non-All-Stars give the best offensive players in the world many second shots, it's hopeless."
  • D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog: "I want them to grab every defensive rebound, I want them to get tons of turnovers..."
  • Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm envisions a team whose tactical goal is "DEATH FROM HYPER-LONG-ATHLETIC DEFENDERS FROM ABOVE."

Is it realistic to believe that there are defensive stoppers who can contain the most prolific scorers in the game? Probably not, which means we should look for a very specific brand of defender.

  • Rahat Huq of Red94: "In a game like this, you don't necessarily want guys who are great individual defenders. No one is going to shut down those all-stars in combination ... You need the best help defenders in the game. These guys can't be left alone on an island."'
We asked David Thorpe to chime in. He told us that, in thinking about defense, it's ill-advised to worry about "'who's going to guard THAT guy,' because defense in the modern NBA is a five-player gig, so that's the wrong question." With the right coach and coverages, anyone with enough athleticism and commitment can play good team defense.

On Offense
Our team won't have the capacity to create shots the way the All-Stars can, so they better be efficient, says Matt Moore. "You're creating a team that takes shots at the rim and at the arc. Most at the rim. Very much so at the rim." When the Houston Rockets are clicking on the offensive end, they do this proficiently without a single player who approaches All-Star status.

Meta-Factors
"Intangibles" are abstract, unsatisfying and impossible to measure, but there's no denying that our players need to embody certain qualities to knock off the big boys.


  • Henry Abbott: "If you look at the best lineups in the NBA, they almost all include role players (like Anderson Varejao). But when picking the best teams, it's very hard for coaches, GMs or anybody else to pick a role player over a multi-talented star. So they take the star. Anyone read Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers"? After 10,000 hours people are candidates to become masters at something. I'm thinking you want people who have their 10,000 hours in doing boring things that lead to wins, like playing D. Stars don't have more hours in their days. They have to spend a lot of time on other stuff."
  • Rahat Huq: "You want players who 'impact winning,' which entails deflections, making quick rotations, pushing pace effectively, never making mistakes -- all the things that impact the outcome in the aggregate. The only way to beat an all-star team is through some sort of synergism. You'll have to play a virtually flawless game."

Toppling the All-Star teams is an uphill battle, but not impossible. Here's the group we've recruited to get it done:

Starters

Jason Kidd (PG)
If mastery comes from 10,000 hours of practice, then Kidd is the wily veteran to run point for our squad. Darius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold: "I'd want a point guard who could push the ball and make the right decisions on both the break and in the half court."

Andre Iguodala (SG)
Defense? Rebounding? The ability to finish at the rim? It's all right here. Iggy's outside shot presents a bit of a concern, and makes him an imperfect selection. The sum of the parts, though, gives our team too many important ingredients to pass over.

Andrei Kirilenko (SF)
There was a groundswell of support for Kirilenko, whose ability to make plays from anywhere, cover multiple positions, protect the rim and provide help defense, make him a classic insurgent against a team of All-Stars.

Josh Smith (PF)
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 likes Smith and Kirilenko as a forward tandem. "Kirilenko and Smith will cover each other and everyone else on the floor with quick-footed athletic defense."


Lamar Odom (C)
Not a traditional center by any stretch, but a trio of Odom, Kirilenko and Smith just might be skilled, long, springy and athletic enough to defend an elite front line. Spencer Ryan Hall of Salt City Hoops is as enamored with the playmaking potential of the Odom-Kirilenko combo as I am. "Give me Odom at the 5 just to watch him and Kirilenko together." Thorpe adds that the defensive strategy of Kirilenko-Smith-Odom would be "to press and trap baseline and corner catches and generally make it a scramble game. Blitzing ball screens will be effective too."


Reserves

Kyle Lowry (G)
Henry Abbott makes the strong case for the efficient Lowry off the bench, where he's excelled for Houston. "[He] fights like a dog and gets to the line like crazy, while also making his team's defense better."


Jamal Crawford (G)
Thus far, we don't have any pure shooters. As Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom points out, Crawford has his flaws, but is worth signing up. "I'm not sold on him completely here but if he's hot, it doesn't matter who is guarding him." Just ask the Boston Celtics. Anthony Morrow finishes a close second for the role of sharpshooter off the bench.

Manu Ginobili (G)
"Manu Ginobili HAS beaten All-Star teams, in international competition," writes Henry. He gives the squad one guard who can truly probe the defense in the half court.

Tyreke Evans (G)
We don't care how you classify him positionally. We just know he can score on any perimeter player in the league when he's disciplined and keeps the ball moving in the half court.

Hedo Turkoglu (F)
Critics will knock his defense, but he did just fine on Orlando's shutdown squad last season. In a talent pool that's bereft of big wings, Turkoglu is a good choice for his flexibility as a pick-and-roll practitioner. Imagine what he and the guy just below could do as a tandem in the second unit to that effect.

Nene (F/C)
Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company describes his assets this way: "A big man who can score on the block, face up and hit the 15 footer or drive and is a very good passer. Plus he has as good of a chance to defend both Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard as anyone." If Nene is unavailable, we like the indefatigable Carl Landry.


Anderson Varejao (F/C)
We don't need him to score, we just want him to annoy the hell out of max-contract superstars. When that pest makes his team's defense inordinately better, crashes the glass and collects the garbage, we'll find the minutes. Joakim Noah was a strong contender for this 12th man slot.


Gregg Popovich (Coach)
"You don't deserve anything. You just go play. You start thinking about what you deserve and what you don't deserve and it just makes you soft. You just go play the game." -- Gregg Popovich, May 2006.


The counter argument
Leave it to M. Haubs of The Painted Are to be the hard-bitten realist. For him, this is a fun, but ultimately futile, exercise. The talent on the All-Star rosters is just too much to contend with, no matter how much synergy our team can muster and no matter how much precision it can deploy. He also challenges the premise that the USA Basketball teams that struggled in the early part of last decade failed because they were overstaffed with scorers:


I have to say that as much as people wanted to blame Team USA's underachievement from 2002-06 on lack of shooting or role players or some mystical qualities, the dirty little secret about the ultimate redemption in 2008 was talent - they brought a roster filled with All-NBA players, which they had not really done since 1996. The teams that Manu beat in '02 and '04 were not really All-Star teams -- those teams had too many role players, not too few.

I'm really not trying to be the poop in the punch bowl here, but I will take CP3, Kobe, Melo, Dirk and Timmy, with Nash, D-Will, Durant, and Pau off the bench, and you can try to beat me with your collection of role players. And please, by all means, try to press and speed up the tempo; I have Chris Paul and Steve Nash.

In reality, I would suggest that you lobby hard to play the game under FIBA rules, with unlimited zone defense to clog the lane and a shorter three-point line for a better puncher's chance, and I'd recommend that a college coach like Coach K be forced to be the game coach for the All-Stars.



We've given you our roster, please tell us yours.

Seven questions for 2010

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
7:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
One of the simple ways of experiencing basketball is by talking about it with people who share your love of the game. One of the people I enjoy rapping with is John Krolik of Cavs the Blog and SLAM Online. The best conversations are the ones that produce interesting questions, then aim to answer them. Here are some of those questions about the NBA John and I have been bouncing around in our last couple of conversations:


D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
Combo Plate: A ball-handling scorer ... and a scoring ball-handler.


As guys get freakier and more athletic, are we witnessing an end to positional orthodoxy?
JK: We're definitely seeing a lot of blurring in positional lines, particularly outside of the center position. One thing in particular I like is the rise of the true combo guard. Early in the decade, we got a lot of alleged "combo guards" who were really just superpowered bench gunners given control of teams with mixed results; Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, et cetera. (Iverson is Iverson.)

But now we're really starting to see effective players who are a cross between the one and the two in a good way, and they're being complimented with other multi-skilled guards rather than going with a strict point guard/shooting guard backcourt. In San Antonio, they put Tony Parker, who's a great scorer for a point, next to Manu, who's a great playmaker for a shooting guard, and things went well. The double-combo backcourt of Mo Williams and Delonte West turned Cleveland's backcourt from a disaster area to a huge strength last season. Even Jason Kidd, the truest of points, is playing with JET and JJ Barea, and has even become adept at knocking down catch-and-shoot 3s off of other people's assists. Phil Jackson's won only 10 championships using an offense that doesn't require a traditional point. And so many young combo guards are coming in with tons of talent: Tyreke Evans, Russell Westbrook, Brandon Jennings and even John Wall, who should definitely be put next to a guy who can pass and shoot when he comes into the league so that he can spend some time in each game going on guilt-free scoring rampages. Wall might be the combo-guard messiah.

KA: This is a beautiful trend because it's created a much more diverse range of basketball styles. Very few teams around the league look alike, even though many of them run much of the same stuff. The fact that so many players can do so many different things on the floor creates an exponentially greater number of things a team can do schematically. On many teams, shots on the floor can be drawn up for almost any player at any spot! Part of this can be attributed to athleticism. One the things that made a power forward or a center a big men was his ability to perform big men tasks -- rebounding, shot-blocking, the ability to routinely get high-percentage shots close to the rim. Today's NBA perimeter players have the athleticism to do a lot of that -- and many of the bigger guys in the league have perimeter skills, as well.

This seems like a nice segue to ...

Do traditional big men have a future?
KA: Whether you chalk it up to the prohibition of hand-checking or the stylings of Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams (I'd argue that former rendered the latter), the professional game has undergone a seismic shift over the past decade. Perimeter play has taken over. Today's power forwards have big guard games and two of the top three players in 3-point attempts are 6-foot-10. It's a world gone mad, but you can't complain about the product on the court. The NBA has never been more fun to watch, and we're just getting started...

...or are we?

Trends have a way of feeling permanent while they're being experienced, but they rarely last forever. At some point, laws of macroeconomics take over. Right now, there aren't more than a handful of big men in basketball who have refined post moves and can drain a running right-handed hook with consistency. Teams don't value those attributes as much as speed and 3-point shooting. But as more and more players have the ability to drain 100-200 3-pointers per season at a 40 percent clip, the demand will shift. Kids who arrive on the NBA's doorstep with the ability to dominate the game inside with uncanny efficiency will be shopping skills that few teams will be able to defend.

JK: I'd say the hand-check rules imposed an artificial set of circumstances that forced a change, so I don't think we'll see the pendulum swing all the way back to where it was. But I think guys are finding out that even though big men need to be faster and more skilled than they used to be and can't count on getting minutes just because they can score with their backs to the basket and do nothing else (i.e. Eddy Curry), the post-up game is still a valuable weapon. Look at the Lakers. Andrew Bynum, when he's engaged, defends the rim, gets rebounds and is quick enough to find room and finish off of others, but also posts up. Pau Gasol plays the high-post, runs the floor, gets rebounds, passes beautifully and can knock down the mid-range jumper, but also has a wonderful post game. And of course Kobe can and does do just about anything that's possible for a basketball player to do, but also utilizes the post game.

I'd say that the post-up specialist won't be in vogue again in the foreseeable future, but more and more bigs and wings who can do what's demanded of them in the post hand-check NBA are going to find that the actual post game is still a hugely valuable weapon, especially as fewer and fewer teams know how to defend it.

Of the current young up-and-coming teams, which ones are for real and which ones will provide an entertaining illusion of success?
KA: When sizing up a team's future prospects, the first thing I ask myself is, "Can I imagine this team ranking in the top half of the league defensively?"


Oklahoma City is the quintessential upstart squad. They're fun, charismatic, dynamic, athletic ... and not all that impressive as an offensive unit. It's the Thunder's defense that's led them to a 17-14 record this season. So long as tough, lanky defenders like Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha are patrolling the perimeter (and James Harden too), opponents are going to have a tough time scoring against them. With that Kevin Durant angle pick-and-roll as the anchor of their offense, they're a good bet to win a playoff series sometime soon.

Brandon Jennings has sparked any and all attention the Bucks have received this season, but Milwaukee's frontcourt of Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute have put up gritty defensive numbers. Mbah a Moute comes as no surprise, but I was shocked by Bogut's stats, until I looked at his figures under Scott Skiles last season -- also really, really good. Once they get a (healthy) shooting guard who can play drive-and-kick off the Jennings-Bogut pick-and-roll, the Bucks could be dangerous under a coach who was booted from his last gig in Chicago after assembling the league's top-ranked defense and the Eastern Conference's 3rd best record the previous season.

Sacramento's lousy defensive numbers don't concern me right now. They strike me as a team that's going to experience a major overhaul over the next 18 months, and a big part of that metamorphosis will be acquiring some pieces around Tyreke Evans who can defend. I have less faith in Memphis, Minnesota, Golden State and, to a slightly lesser extent, Philadelphia, who all have rosters riddled with defensive ciphers.

JK: I think Oklahoma City wins a playoff series when their backcourt clicks into place, and that's close to happening. I love Westbrook's game and think he has a ton of potential, but he just needs to be more disciplined. He pushes the ball, plays great defense, and does all these little things, but then he'll throw up a bad jumper, brick a full-speed reverse layup, or make a silly pass, and his true shooting percentage and turnover rates are way off of where they need to be because of that. It'll be interesting to see if the answer there is Harden maturing to the point where he can play 30-35 minutes a game and cover some of Westbrook's weaknesses with his shooting, playmaking and ability to create off the drive. (Combo guards!) But I think that young frontcourt is the envy of a lot of teams in the league, Sam Presti keeps getting valuable pieces without giving up much, and I'd call the future very bright there.

For Sacramento, the short-term question is how Tyreke is going to work with Kevin Martin. They might cancel each other out or become absolutely unstoppable together, although they might need to do the latter to make up for Martin's suspect defense. But Thompson, Hawes, Casspi, and even Brockman all look like keepers, and Tyreke has given every indication that he can be built around.

In Milwaukee, I think they should be having serious brainstorms on how they can hide Mbah a Moute on offense so they can keep him on the floor longer, maybe even looking for a stretch four so they can put Mbah a Moute closer to the basket offensively and use him like Detroit used Ben Wallace. He's that good defensively.

I agree with you about the rest of the teams, although I give Memphis some upside because I think it's a bit too early to completely give up on Hasheem Thabeet as an impact player defensively; if Orlando could build a defense around Howard and four perimeter guys, there's a chance Memphis can as well. (A chance, mind you.)

What is it about Stan Van Gundy that we like so much?
JK: I think we've got a pretty narrow view of how to evaluate coaches, because we don't see the vast majority of what they do and we're trained to look for their failures and not their successes. Coaches almost exist to be fired, and every time they make a mistake with their play-call or substitution, it'll get talked about the next day.

I think the biggest job of a coach isn't to call timeouts strategically or be a genius with his in game substitutions. (Although both are definitely important, especially the latter.) I think the job of an NBA coach is to set up a system that best utilizes the talents he has available to him, and that's where Stan Van Gundy comes in, especially last season. Of his five starters, he had three guys with below-average defensive reputations, Dwight Howard, and a rookie.

Instead of trying to have everyone play straight-up or stick Rashard Lewis at the three, he evaluated what he had -- the best shot-blocker in the league and more quickness on the perimeter than most other teams had. So he stuck Lewis at the 4 and never looked back, and built a defense around running other teams off threes and keeping Howard at home under the basket. What happened? The Magic gave up the second fewest made baskets at the rim, the second fewest made 3s per game, and more shots from 10-15 feet and 16-23 feet than any other team in the league. They also had one of the league's three best defenses in terms of efficiency.

Offensively, he had Dwight Howard, who can catch and finish with the best of them but isn't a great post player, more shooting and playmaking at the forward spots than most anyone, and a bunch of guys who can shoot threes. So he had Howard look for catches at the rim, ran 3/4 screen-rolls, and had his players shoot a bunch of threes rather than try to do what everyone else was doing. Van Gundy's failures last season were there for the world to see, but what he did extremely well was more subtle.

KA: I like his press conferences, too. The irony of Van Gundy is that popular perception sometimes paints him as inflexible. But as you said, no coach sculpted a more sensible system for his personnel last season than Van Gundy. He did a full appraisal of his talent, saw where he had edges over his opponents at each position (ballhanding at the 3, shooting at the 4, mobility at the 5) and designed his offense to exploit those advantages.

This isn't to say there's anything wrong with building an elite team by first implementing the system, then by populating that system with players whose talents most conform to it. Whatever works, by all means. Just win. But the ability to create a system around a disparate collection of talent that was brought together randomly is in many ways even more impressive.

Should LeBron James be playing more power forward?
KA: Despite James’ size, strength and efficiency on the glass, Mike Brown has him firmly situated at the small forward slot. In fact, you have to go pretty far down the list of Cleveland’s 5-man lineups to find units in which James is playing power forward. But in the six lineups that feature James surrounded by one traditional big man and three smaller players for at least 10 minutes, the Cavs outscore their opponents 96-83 (prorated for 48 minutes).


Those numbers are enough for me, but let’s think about it in practical terms. We’ve already discussed how positional dogma is a thing of the past in an NBA that’s much smaller than it was 10 years ago. When thinking about how to best maximize LeBron in the half-court, wouldn't you prefer that he drag a bigger defender out to him in order to create more space on the floor for your offense? And defensively, wouldn’t a team like Cleveland, whose primary weakness has been its plodding frontcourt, be better served by having LeBron cover Rashard Lewis on Orlando’s pick-and-pop or Boston’s bigs on the Celtics’ rotating screen-and-rolls? Doesn’t it make more sense to challenge Stan Van Gundy and Doc Rivers to match up with a more athletic lineup? And wouldn’t Cleveland benefit from more transition opportunities?

Would team rebounding suffer? When you look at those aforementioned six lineups with LeBron at the 4, the answer is no. Apart from the political stickiness of limiting the minutes of the Cavs' veteran big men, I have trouble seeing how making the Cavs a more athletic team around LeBron comes with much downside.

JK: The short answer is that I'm extremely confused as to why LeBron doesn't get more time at the 4 position, at least for around 10 minutes of his time on the floor. I understand some of the reasoning behind not giving him significant minutes down there. The Cavs show hard on every perimeter screen, which would require LeBron expending more energy on the defensive end than the Cavs are comfortable with, especially in the first three quarters. And of course, the Cavs don't want LeBron in foul trouble under any circumstances. And generally speaking, the Cavs' big men are better players than Jamario Moon, who typically plays the 3 in the Cavs' small-ball lineup. But LeBron getting the ball in the 10-15 foot range and making his move from down there is absolutely deadly, and that small-ball lineup should definitely be something used more often to keep opposing teams on their toes.

What confuses me more than anything is that while the Shaq/Varejao frontcourt has some offensive issues and the Shaq/Hickson frontcourt has some serious defensive issues, a Shaq/LeBron frontcourt hasn't been tried at all this season, and I mean at all. I suppose the reasoning is that LeBron would be forced to expend way too much energy on the perimeter defensively as Shaq sags to the paint on pick-and-rolls (LeBron's never gotten minutes at the four alongside Z either), but with the Cavs supposedly looking for a "stretch 4" at the deadline to make life easier for Shaq, it's odd that they haven't at least tried using LeBron in that role.


Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images
There are nights when the Mavericks look deadly serious.


How Real is Dallas?
KA: Little known fact: Of the 50 5-man units that have played together the most this season, two of the top three in overall efficiency belong to the Dallas Mavericks. Whether it's Jason Terry or J.J. Barea at the shooting guard, the Mavs' big names are absolutely crushing their opponents on both ends of the floor. Dallas is a Top 5 defensive squad and features one of the game's great shotmakers in Dirk Nowitzki. They also have tremendous flexibility to match up with opponents on either end. They can play old-school or new-school. Want to tease the Mavs with small ball? That's fine, because they're perfectly good going with three guards and moving Shawn Marion and Nowitzki into the frontcourt. Want to try to outmuscle them? Erick Dampier may have an outsized contract, but he's also one of the better basket protectors and garbage collectors in the league. Opponents shoot a measly 57.4 percent at the rim against the Mavs -- only Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio are better.

More than anything, the Mavs strike me as a team composed of professionals. These are serious basketball players led by a serious coach. Is it possible that a squad with so many thirtysomethings breaks down physically over the course of an 82-game season? Perhaps. But where some see brittleness, I see experience. In fact, I see shades of the best San Antonio Spurs squads. I see a team that truly understands its collective talents and limitations and puts a premium on execution.

Can they compete with the Lakers in late May? I'm not sure anyone in the Western Conference can, but Dallas -- with its length, smarts, and perimeter prowess -- might just be the toughest competition the Lakers encounter.

JK: Dallas has a ton of talent, Dirk is right up there with the best players in the league, and the team defends. My caveat would be that they're thinner than people think, and much more dependent on Dirk. As of December 26th, Dallas was +11.6 points per 100 possessions with Dirk on the floor and a stunning -16.5 points per 100 with Dirk on the bench. As bad as LeBron and Kobe's benches are, their teams are only -8 when they sit, to offer some perspective.

A lot of that has to do with Drew Gooden; Gooden's plus-minus is -23.1, and as someone who's watched a good deal of Gooden in his life, I can tell you that's not random noise. Drew Gooden is the anti-Battier. I'm also not a huge J.J. Barea fan. He's fun to watch and works fairly well with Kidd offensively, but I believe you were the one who said he plays defense "like a man frantically searching for his car keys," and the plus-minus numbers support the theory that Barea's somewhat of a defensive liability. Dallas can play with anyone, especially when Dirk's on the floor, and if they do something to get a better backup for Dirk than Gooden and hide Barea's defense a little better (maybe play more Beaubois, who's gone through growing pains and will probably continue to do so, but has lockdown defensive potential), I'd call them a true force to be reckoned with in the West. If not, I'd say they have a solid puncher's chance of knocking the Lakers off their Western Conference throne.

How do we begin to make sense of adjusted plus-minus?
JK: Outside of the obvious conclusion, which is "no one stat or metric, no matter how advanced or intricate, is ever going to come close to saying everything about one player," I have two thoughts on adjusted plus-minus.

The first is that I get how the basic +/- you see in box scores and 82games.com's version of plus-minus work, but I still don't totally understand how advanced plus-minus works, and that's a problem. I mean, I get the theory, that it adjusts for having good or bad teammates or playing against good and bad opponents, but how exactly does it define "good" and "bad"? Is "good" based on the other guy's adjusted plus-minus, or is the value of others derived from something like Player Efficiency Rating? Aren't both approaches problematic? Right now, adjusted plus-minus is sort of "He's good. Trust me," which I have trouble swallowing as a fan and certainly can't use to convince friends or readers of a guy's value.

The second problem is one that will get fixed over time, which is that we still don't really know how to read plus-minus type stats yet. We know with a stat like field goal percentage that a shooting guard is going to have a lower field goal percentage than a center, but we also know that the guard is probably shooting more 3s, shooting his free throws better and taking tougher shots than the center. We know how to read that stat.

But because plus-minus is one number and so nebulous, we don't know which plus-minus numbers to take with a grain of salt and which ones not to. I'll bring up the semi-infamous Durant example here. Durant had terrible +/- ratings for his first two seasons, but has been incredible in year three. Was the Durant phenomenon ever even real, or did Durant actually improve this year in ways the stats didn't see? If we want plus-minus metrics to be as legitimate as the box score ones, we have to stress-test it like we have the conventional numbers that came before them.

KA: I'm drawn to adjusted plus-minus because I'm desperate to find any metric that will approximate a player's defensive value, something we just don't have the tools to do right now. I'm more faithful than I probably should be given the lack of stress tests you talk about. Your point is well-taken and I'd add that stats like these are only valuable to the extent that they're predictive. There will always be players who make colossal jumps or experience unusual crashes in productivity, but apart from outliers, a stat must be dependable enough to offer a clear -- if general -- estimation of what that player is worth in the past, present and likely future. I've begun to spend more time examining the adjusted plus-minus numbers of 5-man units rather than individuals, in part because it seems more practical.

I suspect we'll know a lot more in three to five years than we do now. The metric's practitioners (and the people who trust them) will have a better sense of where the numbers skews, what those number might miss and the kind of noise those numbers create. In the meantime, I'll continue to watch the 2-year figures (and eventually 3-year, and 4-year). Any system that values Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant as the five best players in the NBA has to be on to something, right?

Thursday Bullets

December, 24, 2009
12/24/09
3:03
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Tyreke Evans' game-winning non-steal

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
2:58
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
(I recently learned how to embed highlights on TrueHoop, and I'm going crazy with it!)


Good for Tyreke Evans! The clutch steal is right up there near the top of the list in terms of my favorite basketball plays, and he got a great one.

He's rewarded for his efforts with this headline on ESPN.com: "Evans has 26, big steal to lift Kings past Wizards." And this line in the Associated Press story: "Evans scored 26 points and came up with a steal and two clutch free throws in the closing seconds for the Kings, who held on for a 112-109 victory over the struggling Washington Wizards on Wednesday night."

The only thing he didn't get out of the deal, as TrueHoop reader Ben points out in an e-mail, is actual credit for a steal.

Check out the boxscore. He finished the game with zero steals.

I think I understand why. He poked the ball free and then was fouled before his team possessed the ball. A steal is a change of possession. This was a loose ball that in theory anyone could have snagged, and then he happened to get fouled.

I understand why that steal isn't in the boxscore as it is. But I'm also sure that boxscore, as it is, isn't telling us anything about the most important play of the game.

UPDATE: David Thorpe makes an interesting basketball point about that play: "You can't crossover against a long guy. You might be able to cross a long guy who's lazy, but a player as long as Tyreke who is active and trying to get the ball ... it's just not a good play. I tell my players, against a long player like that, you have to go inside-out, hesitate and go, or something else. But not crossover -- too often they can just reach in there and take it."

UPDATE: And here you can see in still images exactly how that length works.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

The Las Vegas Summer League is a lot like the Sundance Film Festival of the NBA. Whereas the pageantry of most NBA games has gotten out of control, Summer League games are small indie productions. The event certainly has its share of fanfare, but it also allows participants to brush shoulders with some notables they wouldn't ordinarily have access to during the grind of the NBA season. Just as festival-goers at Sundance might find themselves sitting next to an A-List movie star in a cozy bar, it's not unusual for Summer League attendees to sit down in the stands at Cox Pavilion, only to look over and see a high-profile general manager in cargo shorts and flip-flops.

Since team executives, agents, player development personnel, and veterans who've come to watch their younger teammates are all convened in one place for 10 days, Summer League is one big, casual schmoozefest, and a great place to take inventory of the state of the NBA.

What were all those big names talking about in Las Vegas this year? Here were eight hot topics:

A Lot of Competent Players, but Only One Sure-Fire All-Star
Since early spring, the 2009 talent pool has been regarded as a one-man draft. By and large, NBA folks left Las Vegas with that consensus intact. Blake Griffin was the story of Summer League. Though he wasn't able to replicate his explosive 27-point debut, Griffin's 19.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game stood out. There were other players who matched his statistical output, but few generated the enthusiasm Griffin did among those who got a look at the full roster of rookies. "It's not only his work ethic and competitiveness," said one scout. "It's the balance, athleticism, body, and control. The stuff he can't do yet? It'll happen in no time." When asked how many certain All-Stars would materialize from the class of 2009, interviewees set the over-under barely above one, with Tyreke Evans earning a few votes. Despite the low expectations for stardom, many observers were pleasantly surprised by the depth of solid, if unexceptional, players. The prevailing opinion in Vegas was that the 2009 group is a far cry from the notoriously fruitless class of 2000. Though there was little unanimity, James Harden, Austin Daye, Wayne Ellington, Jonny Flynn, DeJuan Blair, and Earl Clark were all mentioned as possible contributors, or "third options" as one assistant general manager put it. But conversations about potential greatness consistently and almost exclusively returned to Griffin.
Anthony Randolph Anthony Randolph: All grown up?
(Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Anthony Randolph is Ridiculous
Summer League play always warrants a disclaimer, because the level of competition falls way short of what guys will confront in an NBA game, but the Warriors' 20-year-old forward seemed almost too advanced for Summer League play. Normally jaded execs and crusty sportswriters alike had their jaws agape watching Randolph command the game when he was out on the floor. Randolph came into the league as a candy dish of disparate talents, but he's graduated from curiosity to crackerjack. He has a band of admirers who gush over his range of talents, and that group got a lot bigger in Las Vegas, as his skill set was on full display. Randolph saw the court, ran the floor, passed the ball, blocked shots, got to the line, and drained mid-range jumpers as well as anyone in Summer League. In his four games, he averaged a Summer League-high 26.8 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting from the floor. He also got to the line 39 times and blocked 12 shots. But it was about more than the stats for Randolph. There's a moment when a player's talents unify into a single, coherent package. Judging from Randolph's performance, that moment has arrived.

The Global Economic Crisis
There's an area behind the near basket at Cox Pavilion where European coaches, general managers, and scouts sit and talk shop during the games. The NBA presents Summer League as a showcase of their future stars, but the real business in Las Vegas is being conducted by these guys, along with the agents and bridge-builders who are trying to get jobs overseas for the less recognizable names on Summer League rosters. Although there wasn't a visible black cloud hanging over this corner of the gym, the anxiety was palpable. They had a lot to be stressed about. Basketball clubs the world over are suffering, but none more than those in Europe. After years of escalating salaries and profits, the market has collapsed. "I've told all my European guys to expect, on average, salaries to go down between 30 and 40 percent," one European agent said. "It's definitely a buyer's market." This dynamic puts pressure on everyone -- the players who are facing a pay cut (even if they're coming off banner seasons), the agents who are terrified to communicate this to their clients out of fear of getting fired, and the teams who still haven't filled out their rosters because they're short on cash. The result is an impasse with neither players nor clubs budging, and a few teams on the verge of economic collapse.

Salary Cap Troubles & the NBA Financial Situation
The international game is in meltdown mode, while the NBA game is suffering from its own set of monetary issues. In Sections 104 and 115, where most of the NBA execs and team personnel sit, the dominant conversation of the week was about the financial pinch NBA franchises are feeling. In his press conference here in Vegas, NBA Commissioner David Stern said that fewer than half of NBA franchises made money last season. Ticket sales, sponsorships, and television contracts are all down. With the salary cap and luxury tax level dropping -- and scheduled to do so for the foreseeable future -- teams are having to calibrate their spreadsheets. This affects everyone: owners, general managers who are under pressure to build legitimate NBA rosters, free agents sitting on the sidelines, their agents, and also the journeymen and undrafted rookies trying to earn a spot on an NBA roster. To save money, a team that would normally carry 15 guys might trim that number down to 13 -- meaning fewer jobs. And players who would've inked rich, multi-year deals are finding that, with some exceptions, they have fewer suitors, with thinner wallets.

The Point Guard Class
Several point guards who came to Las Vegas made strong impressions. Jonny Flynn, despite all the turmoil surrounding Ricky Rubio, stood out. Though many in Vegas questioned the wisdom of playing Tyreke Evans at point guard long-term, few doubted that his strength, size, and capacity to get to the rim would make him a scoring machine. Observers had reserved praise for Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry, the former for his unrefined shot, the latter for looking more like a gunner than a floor general. Some of the mid-first-rounders earned a lot of praise. Dallas' Roddy Beaubois led Vegas point guards in oohs and aahs, zipping through the lane in traffic and filling it up from beyond the arc. Of all the point guards in Las Vegas last week, Darren Collison was among the most polished before going down with an ankle injury. After starting Summer League 1-for-15 from the field, Ty Lawson bounced back to turn in three dominant performances, averaging 23.7 points over that span. Lawson is the kind of point guard who needs to be surrounded by scorers to excel. He'll have that in Denver.

LO, AI, Booz, and the Blazer
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As much as NBA fans love speculation about trades and free agency, nobody appreciates the rumor mill quite like the NBA chattering class. Talk of the disintegration of Lamar Odom's negotiations with the Lakers provided plenty of fodder for late-night dinners. The same was true of the l'affaire Allen Iverson, where Carlos Boozer may land, and what the Blazers will do with the money they threw at Paul Millsap. The Odom situation was far and away the most intriguing to the insiders. Odom and the Lakers are in the second act of a romantic comedy: They need each other. The Lakers would slip measurably without Odom, and Odom needs the Lakers to solidify his place among the Lakers greats -- or at least the Lakers very, very goods. The Iverson and Boozer matters exemplify the financial issues mentioned above. So far as Portland, few teams run as much informational interference, and even some of the wiliest insiders were stumped about what the Trail Blazers might do.

The Death of the Back-to-the-Basket Game
"Name one guy here who can hit a jump hook over their left shoulder," an NBA assistant general manager asked. "I can't think of one." Whether it's the trickle-down effect of the European game, the rule changes implemented by the league a few years ago, or college teams appropriating Mike D'Antoni-style basketball, the vast majority of the young bigs who were in Las Vegas are face-up players who work either along the perimeter or out of the pinch post: Anthony Randolph, Earl Clark, James Johnson, Taj Gibson, Dante Cunningham, DaJuan Summers, Austin Daye, and even Blake Griffin. Is this a momentary trend, or will the pendulum eventually swing back? "If I were a big man about to enter college, I would develop that back-to-the-basket game," the executive said. The implication: At some point, those skills will be at a premium, and that kid will be impossible to defend. Forward-looking teams are all about buying low and, right now, traditional post players are undervalued because they don't conform to the current climate of the NBA game.

Dysfunctional Organizational Structures Breed
Dysfunctional Franchises
What is going on with Minnesota? That was a popular topic of conversation among senior NBA people in Las Vegas. The team still has no coach. Though it had one of the Summer League's most prolific players in Flynn, there's no telling if the system he played in over the 10 days will be the one installed by a new coach -- whoever that might be. This makes the Summer League evaluation process a lot less useful. Who's in charge? CEO Rob Moor? General manager David Kahn? Will the new coach be fully empowered to do his job? Critics also looked at Memphis. How did the Grizzlies end up with Hasheem Thabeet? Because owner Michael Heisley reportedly made the call. The Clippers, too, generated buzz this week with the Iverson speculation. While owner Donald Sterling wants to make a splash with Iverson, Clippers management would like to target Ramon Sessions. These historically beleaguered franchises all have one thing in common: There's no clear hierarchy that allows basketball people to make basketball decisions. The best franchises have well-defined roles that emanate from the top. Owners allow their senior executives to do their job. Those executives give their head coaches full reign, and so forth. Look no further than the San Antonio Spurs.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • The Knicks' Toney Douglas continued to struggle shooting the ball, but he performed his primary function as floor general quite well. He gave the Knicks what they needed at the point -- game management, penetration and kicking, creating for others, and, most of all, solid on-ball defense at that position. Douglas now has 21 assists to only two turnovers in his two games. Not bad for a guy who started out as a combo guard. 
  • Austin Daye The Pistons' order of the Daye
    (Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

  • Jordan Hill is at his strongest when he's facing up to the basket, but too often he rushes himself when he has the ball in the post. Several times on Wednesday, he lost track of where he was on the block, then flung an off-balanced shot up from close range. Hill also seemed a little passive as a post defender, even against the likes of Trent Plaisted. Hill stayed in close proximity on defense to his assigned man, but rarely tried to knock his guy off his spot. In general, the closer Hill was to the basket, the less comfortable he was.
  • You have to love a player who's useful at any spot on the court. Austin Daye is that guy for Detroit. He's a new wave three -- able to work as the ballhandler on the pick-and-roll, drive to the cup from the perimeter, post up against most small forwards, use a screen the right way, and hit from long range. Against the Knicks on Wednesday, he finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. 
  • DaJuan Summers was the butter and egg man down low for the Pistons. I can't quite figure out whether to classify him as a small or power forward. IMG's Mike Moreau referred to him as a "Power 3." Whatever he is, Summers continued to leverage his ability to face up for opportunities to get inside. There's a lot of offensive weaponry there, and he can clean the glass, too. His scoring line: 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the field, and 5-for-7 from the stripe. 
  • Joe Alexander did a much better job off-the-ball finding space on the floor where teammates could hit him for open looks -- not just on the perimeter, but in Scola-territory along the baseline at 15 feet. The Alexander-Taj Gibson matchup was an interesting one and it was anything but a pitching duel. Alexander finished 9-for-16 from the field, Gibson 6-for-9. Gibson was able to exploit his length against Alexander, while Alexander used his versatility and triple-threat skills to beat Gibson. Meanwhile, Gibson became the second player in Summer League to rack up 10 fouls. The Spurs' Ian Mahinmi was the first Tuesday against Denver. Gibson now has 19 fouls in two games. 
  • Summer League is the perfect setting for an athlete like Amir Johnson to show off his wares under the basket. Johnson was an efficiency machine inside for the Bucks: 17 points on 11 possessions, along with eight rebounds. He owned the paint, gobbling up offensive boards, going up strong with the putbacks, either converting or getting fouled (11 free throw attempts for the game). Defensively, he was smart and physical, blocking shots and igniting breaks with sharp, quick outlet passes to Brandon Jennings
  • After sitting out Phoenix's first Summer League game on Monday with back spasms, Earl Clark displayed his full range of skills in his inaugural effort on Wednesday. He initiates the bulk of his offense along the perimeter, but he can do so many things from there to disarm the defense: a pretty touch pass into the post off a dish from his point guard, a catch-and-shoot, a dribble drive and pass-off that results in a hockey assist. He also showed his defensive flexibility, bothering guards and bigs alike.  
  • DeMar DeRozan is far more polished than advertised. He uses his quickness to build his game. As Mike Moreau said in David Thorpe's twitter thread, "Demar DeRozan really comes off the curl with speed, balance and elevation-very controlled. Will come off a decade's worth of pindowns."  He also rarely takes a bad shot -- uncommon among rookies and in Summer League, and particularly uncommon among rookies in Summer League. 
  • Jason Thompson was an entirely different player Wednesday. He claimed his spot down on the block, called for the ball, forced the action off the dribble, made hard back cuts when he was fronted, backed his guy in with force when he wasn't, and worked his tuchus off on the offensive glass. His totals: 31 points and 10 rebounds. 
  • Tyreke Evans didn't start for the Kings against the D-League Select team, and was very deferential when he checked in at the start of the second quarter and throughout the second half. He went 1-for-5 from the field, 3-for-4 from the line, with three assists in 23 minutes. Despite the off night, the change of speed on his dribble-drives was still ungodly.
  • Chase Budinger has a beautiful stride into his catch-and-shoot motion -- we know that -- but Wednesday night he also showed the athleticism to put it on the deck, weave through traffic, and finish strongly. He moved well without the ball to get open looks, and even absorbed a few bumps on defense to stay in front of his man, something he'll have to do this fall to stay in the Rockets' rotation.
  • Andray Blatche continues to be  one of the most confounding talents in the league. He flashed moments of sheer dominance Wednesday night with swift, whirling post moves off good recognition that made his defenders look silly. At other times, he tried to improvise and failed spectacularly. Blatche could be a top-shelf talent, but his preference for raw instinct over tactical strategy on a given play renders him inconsistent. He needs a plan. Still, between the potent face-up game at the top of the key, and the fancy footwork and explosiveness down low, it's hard to take your eyes off him. Let's see how he fares this season against NBA talent.
  • Dante Cunningham: NBA body, NBA aggressiveness, NBA defense ... NBA player? He didn't put up the most efficient line of the night (22 points on 23 possessions), but his physicality made the Rockets' defense work. He often chose to back his defender in with a dribble or two, then launch a mid-range jumper with good elevation. When he recognized there was something better, he'd build a head of steam and get to the rim. More than anything, he was out there with a purpose, moving with the offense, mindful of where Jerryd Bayless was at all times. 

An improvised summer league birthday raptacular for coach Pete Carril:

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz 

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

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

All-Rookie Team

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

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

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

All-Sophomore Team

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

All-Vets & Journeymen Team

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

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

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

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

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


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