TrueHoop: Anthony Randolph

How the draft lottery weakens the East

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
1:00
PM ET
Harris By Curtis Harris
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
The current state of the Eastern Conference has been widely panned and rightfully so. As of Friday morning, only three East teams sit above .500, and the conference currently holds an overall win percentage of .442, which puts it on track for 36 wins per team. That’s a historically horrific track to be going down. Just once before has a conference had a lower win percentage -- and that was way back in 1960 when the West won 40 percent of its games.

This year may be the worst-case scenario for the East, but it’s continuing a steady trend. For 15 years dating back to the 1999-00 season, the Western Conference has won an average of 52.5 percent of its games overwhelming the East’s 47.5 percent. But since 2009, the West has held a higher win percentage than the East in every individual season.

There are many reasons for this. One of them that has not been discussed much is that the NBA draft system often unintentionally (but systematically) awards decent West teams slightly better draft picks than similar teams in the East. It's a system designed to help the weak get stronger, but it's rewarding the stronger conference almost every season.

It works like this. The lottery format, of course, semi-randomly assigns the top overall picks -- only twice since the 1999-2000 season has the worst team in the NBA won the top pick. But what matters is who gets into the lottery: specifically, teams that miss the playoffs. In the West, those are typically good teams. In the East, that's not so. So the top draft spots are going to a pool of teams that includes some strong West teams and weaker East ones.

Since 2000, 13 Western Conference teams have been in the lottery despite having one of the 16 best records in the NBA. On the flip side, this means that 13 Eastern Conference teams that did not possess one of the 16 best records in the NBA made the playoffs.

This odd situation is a quirk of the playoff structure, which takes the eight best teams per conference not the 16 best teams from the whole league. And it’s also a byproduct of the draft which then promises the top 14 picks to the non-playoff teams, not the 14 worst teams in the NBA, recordwise.

The average victories for the should-have-been playoff teams from the West is 43.3 wins. The average for those should-have-been lottery East teams is 39.6 wins. The situation reached its nadir in 2008 when the Golden State Warriors won 48 games, which was the 12th best record in the NBA. Still, they missed the Western Conference playoffs. Meanwhile the 37-win Atlanta Hawks got themselves a spot in the Eastern Conference postseason with the 19th best record in the league.

Other notable misfortunes include:
  • The 43-win Utah Jazz missed the playoffs, but made the lottery, while the 38-win Milwaukee Bucks saw the postseason in 2013.
  • In 2011, the Pacers won just 37 games and made the playoffs, while the Rockets won 43 and got a lottery pick.
  • In 2009, the 46-win Phoenix Suns didn't make the playoffs, but the 39-win Detroit Pistons did.
  • 2005 saw the Timberwolves win 44 and make the lottery, while the Nets won 42 and didn't.
  • In 2004, the 39-win Knicks and 36-win Celtics made the playoffs in the weak East, while the 42-win Jazz and 41-win Trail Blazers drew pingpong balls.
  • In 2001, the 45-win Rockets and 44-win SuperSonics earned spots in the lottery, but the 43-win Orlando Magic and the 41-win Indiana Pacers did not.

Those 42-, 44-, even 48-win Western Conference teams are getting an (admittedly slim) chance at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. More importantly, though, they are absolutely getting a leg up on a better opportunity to collect talent compared to those Eastern teams which are losing three, five, or even 11 more games.

This discrepancy helps to reinforce the power of the Western Conference, while limiting the ability of the Eastern Conference to correct the imbalance.

The 13 West teams that missed the playoffs but got into the lottery received an average draft selection of 12.5 when in a league-wide draw would have been slotted in at around 16.5. That’s an appreciable four pick difference. Meanwhile, those crummy East teams got an average draft slot of 15 when they should have been picking at No. 13.

Obviously, the uppermost part of the draft is where the franchise-changing players are added. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwyane Wade ... they were all taken in the top five picks. However that mid-range in the draft is important for complementing those stars with good role players.

Luckily for the East, the Western Conference has largely bungled its draft choices in this range. The 2008 Warriors with their 14th pick, instead of the 19th that they deserved, took Anthony Randolph ahead of useful players like Robin Lopez and Roy Hibbert.

You can lead a horse to water, but sometimes it’s going to drown in the pool, I suppose.

This quirky situation isn’t the end of the world, and it’s certainly not the cause of the disparity between the East and the West. I don’t think we’ll ever really know why the West is demonstrably better than the East for 15 years running now.

But the point here is that the current, peculiar format of the draft and the playoffs isn’t doing a lot to correct the imbalance and the solution is fairly simple.

This is yet another argument for a HoopIdea that many others have made before: It's time to reconsider the process of allocating talent to teams. At a minimum, it would make sense that the 14-worst teams receive the top 14 picks. The West is already formidable enough.

What is Las Vegas Summer League?

July, 11, 2013
7/11/13
10:43
PM ET
By Daniel Nowell
ESPN.com
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Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesLas Vegas Summer League: The world's first glimpse at future stars in their NBA uniforms.
It seems impossible that we need more basketball.

The NBA Finals ended less than a month ago, and for the past several years it has become common among smart observers to debate whether the NBA is already playing too long a season. For players, coaches and executives -- and for many fans -- 82 games followed by a two-month postseason is already a grind. And yet, just three weeks after the lights go down each season, the basketball world congregates in Las Vegas to endure 120-degree heat and nine-hour days of games between young and little-known players who have no demonstrable bearing on the NBA power structure.

This is the Las Vegas Summer League, and it has somehow become one of the most important weeks on the basketball calendar.

Often, even the most die-hard fans have only a perfunctory awareness of what goes on in Vegas. Lottery picks' point totals are bandied about among the faithful as reasons for concern or celebration. Occasionally, a previously unheralded player grabs headlines with an explosive performance.

But the true function of the Summer League goes much deeper than the highlights. In a way that no other event can match, Las Vegas Summer League is a conclave for the luminaries of the NBA world; scouts, executives, players and power brokers all find their way to the desert in July. Why this is so, and how it came to be, is something of an untold story.

Albert Hall, officially, is the vice president of business operations at VSL Properties, the venture that started and owns the Las Vegas Summer League. Along with NBA agent Warren LeGarie, Hall is one of a handful of people who might be referred to as The Man at summer league. Las Vegas Summer League was hatched in 2004; today, if something needs doing in Vegas, Hall is likely to be doing it.

Before Vegas, summer league had existed in several forms. There were leagues at Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount, two colleges in Los Angeles. But attendance was always shifting, and the leagues hadn't managed to evolve into the fixture Vegas has become. LeGarie and Hall saw an opportunity: the allure of Las Vegas, a stable opportunity for teams to scout and develop players, and a summer event to help the NBA rival what Hall refers to as the NFL's "365 media presence." And so, in 2004, LeGarie and Hall launched Las Vegas Summer League. It was an instant success.

"After the first game, we probably had 98 emails," Hall said. Fans were complaining they weren't keeping box scores. League officials took notice. Six teams participated in the 2004 league. Fifteen came in 2005. And by 2008, LVSL had a solid NBA majority with 22 teams.

The built-in advantages of Las Vegas didn't hurt, Hall said. But Vegas became the summer destination of choice for the league with a little luck. He cites a few instances in which the branding power of LVSL was put on full display, chief among them the Portland Trail Blazers' 2006 team. Having drafted Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland was showing off a roster that would help them turn the corner from the "Jail Blazers" era.

"That was a turning point," Hall said. "It became a way for teams to reinvent themselves a little bit."

The potent draw of Vegas was now interwoven with a built-in offseason branding opportunity for teams, and that combination turned summer league into a nexus of league business.

Vegas became the basketball analog to baseball's hot stove league, the offseason crucible of deal-making that shapes the coming season. In fact, Hall courted the comparison as NBA execs as high up as David Stern came to use the analogy.

"We love that," Hall said. "It's where deals are done."

In LVSL's early days, Hall said, free agents could be seen talking to GMs right in the stands. But in a very real sense, Vegas has something that baseball's offseason can't match: the players driving the interest are on the court in front of scouts and executives every day. There's no winter baseball, but summer basketball turns a hot stove into a feeding frenzy for scouts, coaches and peripheral NBA talent. It's this unique mixture that has led ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz to refer to Vegas as the "Sundance Film Festival of the NBA." Hall prefers to call it the league's "American Idol," and said his partner LeGarie embraces the benign anarchy to call Vegas the NBA's Burning Man.

In that frenzy, most agree, are a few tiers of players: There are recently drafted picks -- newly minted first and second-rounders -- who are guaranteed a long leash and a green light for the league. There are young veterans who have carved out an NBA niche but may not have one for very long. And at the fringes, there are unsigned, unheralded players who are, as Hall terms it, "playing for food" when they take the court. This is the class of players looking to snare a contract playing in Europe, the D-League or wherever else might bring a steady check.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Randolph
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesAnthony Randolph is a Vegas Summer League legend.
In some sense, the disparate talent levels and differing objectives among the players on the court serve to foster a chaotic environment. Athletes are a touch less explosive than in the NBA, and defenders accustomed to college zone defenses are often a step slower. Thus Vegas action is ripe for the occasional Anthony Randolph explosion -- instances when players who may not be real NBA starters seem to overwhelm their surroundings with their talent. For this reason, it has become common for some NBA wonks to dismiss summer league as somewhat worthless, more a self-contained oddity than a genuinely useful organizational tool.

ESPN's David Thorpe vehemently disagrees with that idea: "When you say, 'I dismiss the whole brand of summer league,' you're saying 'I don't understand NBA basketball.'" For Thorpe, the summer league offers developmental opportunities that neither smart players nor smart teams can afford to turn down.

For players, summer league represents the perfect compromise between their competitive instincts and lowered stakes that allow them to experiment. The games are games, after all, but their improvisational nature allows players to develop weaknesses and play in ways they might not during the season. A common example is LeBron James playing point guard for most of his first two summer leagues.

Players in Vegas have an opportunity to assess their shortcomings outside the pressure cooker of the regular season. Wing players who can't shoot have the opportunity to hoist with their revamped motion. Post players known for clumsy feet may get to unveil a newly crafted up-and-under move.

What's more, said Thorpe, "The games can be a big reference point for what a player needs to work on the rest of the summer." Rookies, unsigned free agents and other young players who've had to carve out a spot on an NBA bench rarely get full-speed repetitions to gauge the state of their games. What the summer league provides is an opportunity to expand their horizons and see what areas they need to shore up. For Thorpe, "knowledge gained from the failure" of summer league experimentation is of immeasurable value for players who aren't guaranteed starring roles.

On the team side of things, Vegas represents an opportunity to bring players into an organizational culture, to reduce what Thorpe calls their "idle time." Players new to the league or floating between contracts benefit enormously from time spent playing within a team's system, interacting with coaches and scouts and simply staying in mental basketball shape. So valuable is this time to teams and so beneficial for the developmental feedback players receive, Thorpe said, that "the only thing that really doesn't matter about summer league is the score."

At the end of the day, what is perhaps most beguiling for fans is summer league's capacity for happy chaos. With so many unformed and unknown talents, summer league is the perfect petri dish for rare strains of basketball beauty. Summer league performance can be a footnote on an otherwise pedestrian career -- see Jerryd Bayless capturing the 2008 Vegas MVP -- or it can build a career. In Hall's mind, the legend of Jeremy Lin actually began at summer league, when Lin keyed in for a matchup with John Wall and "fed him his lunch." "It was like, 'Wow -- this guy can play.'"

Lin's parable isn't the only one that validates Vegas as a proving ground for talent. Players such as Gary Neal, Brian Roberts, Danny Green, Shannon Brown and J.J. Barea all gained some legitimacy as NBA prospects at summer league. Thorpe agrees with Hall that summer league performances, no matter how unrepresentative or forgettable fans may see them as, can often keep players employed even when their chips are down. Those Vegas successes, he said, linger in the minds of front office execs years later. The assistant GMs and assistant coaches in Vegas become full-fledged GMs and coaches, and may return to the players who made the most of their time. "You're always auditioning for 30 teams," Thorpe said.

Summer league, then, is an utter rarity in the basketball world: An environment in which stakes are modest enough that players can stretch their games, but high enough to inspire players seeking a basketball livelihood to play their hardest. It is a time when league executives and power brokers, unencumbered by scheduling quirks or the demands of the season, can gather to fill a few rooms with insider smoke. A festival, a feeding frenzy, whatever. As Hall puts it: "If you're in the basketball business, you need to be at the summer league."

Will facilitate for potential

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
12:56
PM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Archive
Over the last seven months, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been a major facilitator around the league. Whether they’re handing out wins on a nightly basis or making sure superstar players get to teams that aren’t the Wolves, this team has been extremely active and generous.

This past summer, David Kahn essentially traded a 2011 second-round pick to the Miami Heat for Michael Beasley. It helped clear cap room for the Heat to acquire LeBron James and Chris Bosh while retaining Dwyane Wade’s services. Yesterday, Kahn jumped into a superstar venue change once again by taking the remaining months of Eddy Curry’s basketball career and the unrequited potential of Anthony Randolph in exchange for Corey Brewer. It helped Carmelo Anthony go to the Knicks.

And this is where the Wolves stand in the NBA. As a fan, we watch other teams get built at our expense while hoping that seemingly busted lottery picks can be galvanized at the Target Center. It’s become the Betty Ford Clinic of untapped, athletic potential.

I know I should be excited about acquiring someone who allegedly has a high ceiling, but I just don’t get it. People used to blame Randolph not becoming a young star because of Don Nelson. Then he moved on to the Knicks and couldn’t find minutes on a team that could really use a young, athletic player with rim-protecting capabilities.

Why should I assume he can put it all together in one of the more complicated offensive systems in the NBA?

The Wolves gave up Corey Brewer. I get that it doesn’t seem like a huge loss for this team and ultimately, it won’t be. He’s a decent role player. He could be a very decent role player on a good team. But you know what you’re going to get with Corey. That’s no longer something you can say about this Wolves roster, outside of Kevin Love’s nightly rebounding barrage.

Randolph will come in and immediately be behind the Wolves' two best players in Love and Beasley. My fear is that if Randolph shows any glimmer of hope in these next couple months, it will give Kahn the excuse to trade away Love to finally get rid of the last remaining Kevin McHale acquisitions (Brewer was second to last). Then he will be left with his own team and another grace period of seeing if potential can be realized.

Kahn has put together a collection of low risk, high reward players. It’s a smart plan in terms of job security. These guys could pan out and become franchise building blocks. If they don’t, they were damaged goods to begin with. It allows Kahn to show he’s gambling for team success without actually putting any money on the table.

Beasley averages nearly 20 points per game. Darko Milicic is third in the NBA in blocked shots. Superficially, these look like wins for Kahn and his regime. But Beasley has given up more points per possession than he’s scored (according to Synergy Sports), and when Darko takes 10 shots or more in a game the Wolves’ already low winning percentage goes down six points (from 23 percent to 17 percent).

None of what Kahn has done in these 20 months on the job has actually led to a more successful team. The team now has more potential, but lots of young, bad teams have had the potential to eventually get better. How often does it seem to work?

The Wolves are putting together a roster of castaway lottery picks. The players can either become really good or they can be repackaged and shipped off for better pieces. But Minnesota needs a team to play facilitator in order to pull that off. They need a team willing to gamble on untapped potential to pretend they’re actually getting better.

Unfortunately, they can’t trade with themselves.

‘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).

Friday Bullets

September, 4, 2009
9/04/09
11:06
AM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

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
s

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.

Anthony Bests Anthony

July, 16, 2009
7/16/09
10:52
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

So much for Anthony Randolph's record of 42 Summer League points. With the Warriors forward sitting out Golden State's final Summer League game, the other Anthony -- stepped in and topped his teammate's 48-hour old record with 47 points. Anthony Morrow shot 18-for-26 from the field, including 7-for-9 from beyond the arc. 

Anthony Morrow Anthony Morrow goes for 47: Maybe it's the mohawk
(Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

Morrow put on a shooting clinic in Cox Pavilion, draining his first seven shots in the first quarter. The Hornets' Marcus Thornton was assigned to Morrow and, believe it or not, did a decent job as a lock-and-trail man, chasing his man around screens, and contested almost every shot.

Didn't matter. Morrow's quick release and unconsciousness rendered poor Thornton irrelevant.

I then did the unthinkable as the first quarter expired: I stepped across the way to watch the Spurs and Thunder. 

Holly MacKenzie of SLAM and The Score hung around and offered a report. With 4:31 left in the fourth quarter of a blowout, Morrow tied the record with a 3-pointer. From that point on, his teammates looked for him on every possession. With the crowd swelling with anticipation, Morrow got oooh and ahhs every time he touched the ball. He drained a jumper with 2:16 left, breaking the record to a huge cheer. Morrow then brought the house down at the 1:16 mark with his seventh 3-pointer of the game.

When Morrow checked out of the game with 37 seconds remaining, he got a standing ovation from the Cox Pavilion crowd.

After the game, Holly took in the scene:

At the conclusion of the Warriors/Hornets game, a crowd of kids gathers to try and get an autograph from Morrow. Morrow finishes with media and throws his jersey into the throng of kids, only to have them lunge at it and break the security barricade fighting for it. A younger fan desperately clutches the jersey while another fan struggles to rip it away from him.

While this scene is unfolding, I am interviewing Steph Curry and the two of us stop to watch what's going on. We are both a little unsure of what to do to comfort the boy who is about to cry. Curry then stops the interview, goes over and gives the boy who lost out on the jersey his game-worn shoe.

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.


Anthony Randolph Blows Up

July, 14, 2009
7/14/09
10:30
PM ET

Anthony Randolph Anthony Randolph: Will soon announce his candidacy for mayor of Las Vegas.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

For the fourth time in five days, Warriors big man Anthony Randolph went berserk at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.

This afternoon, he tied a Summer League record as he dropped 42 points on the Bulls. Previous record holders include Von Wafer and Marcus Banks, who both went for 42 in 2007.

Randolph's dominance this week can't be overstated. The scoring exploits are impressive, but Randolph has been at it defensively (12 blocks and nine steals in four games), on the glass (8.5 rebounds per game), and passing out of double teams with poise and precision (zero turnovers today). Randolph isn't only the primary scorer on the floor, but the most creative facilitator.

It's tempting to say that he could still use a little bulk, but his physical presence both in the paint and defending the perimeter with that lanky frame are bothering anyone with the temerity to challenge him. 

Do they retire Summer League jerseys? 

UPDATE: Apparently, they do. [Hat Tip: Kevin Pelton]

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • The best pure passer in Las Vegas this week? Try Walker Russell, Jr. from the D-League Select team. Russell lives for threading needles, lobbing alley-oops, dishing on the break, and swinging skip passes to the weak side. He couldn't care less about his own shot. There are 150 players here this week with more electric games than Russell, but few of them are more enjoyable to watch, and none of them are having more fun on the floor than Russell. 
  • Ahmad Nivins looks like a pro player -- long, muscular, athletic, and coordinated. The but that usually follows this profile is ... lacks fundamentals, or doesn't have a post game. With Nivins, though, that doesn't appear to be the case. He displays good footwork, moves around the floor with purpose, and is a beast on the boards. When you ask folks here why he dropped to No. 56 in the draft, you get a lot of shrugs, followed by a soft endorsement of his skills. He's had a nice week thus far -- 14 points and 6 rebounds per game on 51.6 percent shooting from the field. The only apparent drawback is that he looks waaaay too wound up on the court, and that intensity occasionally works against him.    
  • Funniest moment of the day came before the first ball was tipped. In the opening introductions of the Timberwolves-D-League Select team, Wayne Ellington was introduced as hailing from Duke. As Ellington trotted onto the floor, he did a double-take -- Whaaa?! -- then cracked a big smile as the public address announcer corrected himself, noting that Ellington went to North Carolina. "That was ridiculous!" Ellington said of the PA's snafu. "I had to go over and say something to the guy."
  • Kurt Helin watched the Pistons-Warriors matchup. Looks like Stephen Curry is fitting in just fine with Golden State's system: "[Curry] is a gunner to the point of recklessness - but what fan doesn't want to see that. He has not met a shot he didn't like. Making said shots... well, maybe that will come with time. He was 4 of 14 in his first game, 8 of 22 in his second, 7 of 19 in the third. In case you're not up for the math, that is 34.5%. He's better from three - 39 % - and tends to drain those if you leave him open. Not only do the fans not care, neither do the coaches. 'The shots he's missing now he will make soon, he's learning to make decisions,' said Keith Smart, who coaches the Warriors Summer League team. You can see how Curry could fit well as a point guard - a shoot-first point guard, sure, but he has the ball handling skills and made some good decisions trying to set up teammates. In the third game, with some Warrior regulars around him, Curry was clearly trying to set people up. Of course, then he would jack up a 28-footer."
  • Blake Griffin was the story of the evening for the Clippers, but DeAndre Jordan continues to flash glimmers of hmmmmm. He went 8-for-9 from the field against the Lakers in 27 minutes. Jordan was on the receiving end of some alley-oops, but he also worked the post for a few of those buckets, something he had trouble doing effectively last season. It wasn't all pretty for Jordan -- four turnovers, and an 0-for-5 night from the line. But when he slows down and works deliberately (but assertively), his athleticism is a tough matchup for 95% of the bigs in the league.
  • David Thorpe had an interesting tweet-servation about Griffin that, at first, seems counter-intuitive, but makes a lot of sense when you watch the rookie up close: "Griffin is a special athlete. Not because of his explosiveness. It's the combination of athleticism, power, balance, and coordination." 
  • Jerryd Bayless has a Summer League scoring title to defend, and he got 22 points in his first game. His seven assists and eight free throw attempts are probably more important to the Blazers' brain trust. 
  • Dante Cunningham put on a show for the Trail Blazers faithful (who, needless to say, travel well), from Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "While general manager Kevin Pritchard and coach Nate McMillan scrutinized Bayless from the stands, Cunningham stole a lot of their attention. The second-round pick from Villanova started at power forward and showcased a nice midrange jump shot, a nose for the basketball and sturdy defensive prowess. He finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, making 8 of 17 field goals and 5 of 6 free throws. After the game, he was chosen to man an autograph zone in the lobby of the arena, where he scribbled his name on jerseys, shirts and hats and posed for pictures with fans -- many of whom sported Blazers jerseys. 'If he can knock that (midrange shot) down consistently, he's going to be a player,' McMillan said. 'And I think that's going to come. His rotation and everything is good. He just needs to keep shooting when he's open.'"
  • I didn't get a chance to see the Kings-Bucks game, but Tyreke Evans put up eye-popping numbers that had the campus abuzz: 33 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists. What's more? 19 free throw attempts, 17 of them successful. Evans is the most physical guard in Las Vegas this week (with Eric Gordon coming in second).
  • The Warriors have Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow mic'd up for Summer League games. 

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • Austin Daye has been playmaker extraordinaire for Detroit. On the Pistons' first possession Saturday, he whipped a sharp pass from the perimeter to Trent Plaisted underneath for an easy two. On his team's second sequence, he took his man straight off the dribble to the rack for a layup. A minute later, on a pop-out, Daye nailed a silky 3-pointer. A few possessions later, he flew in from the weak side for an offensive rebound and a vicious putback slam.  And that was only the first eight minutes. For all the talk about Daye lacking an NBA body, it's hard not to draw the comparison to another lanky, versatile Pistons small forward who's done well for himself in the league. 
  • DaJuan Summers: Picked up where he left off Friday. After posting 24 points on 18 possessions along with seven rebounds Friday, Summers again worked his inside-out game for the Pistons on Saturday to the tune of 19 points and six rebounds. Summers executes that inside-out game with smarts. He recognizes mismatches in the halfcourt. Against a slower defender, he drives to the hole. Faced up against a shorter guy, he'll get separation and launch a jumper.
  • Anthony Randolph should have a Summer League exemption. It's really not even fair to the rest of the competition: 24 points on 10-of-13 from the field, 11 boards, five blocks. We saw him finish with his right, run the break in transition coast to coast, post, shoot from the perimeter. It was the full Randolph canvas on Saturday, and he's far and away the best talent here over the first two days. 
  • David Thorpe on the process that combo guards like Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry will have to endure to make the transition to point guard: "Some guys have the gift, but there are 30 starting point guards in the NBA and not all of them have it. Chris Paul and Steve Nash do. But Deron Williams and Chauncey Billups aren't great passers, yet they're great point guards. It took Chauncey four teams to figure out how to play point. Will Evans figure it out? Possibly. But that's up to him, his willingness to learn, and also the organization. You can teach it, but you have to put strategies and structures in place to make that happen. You can't let him run free at the expense of learning how to run the team. That's on the team and the coaching staff."
  • On a day when the Mavs inked future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd to a three-year deal, the best point guard in Las Vegas was Dallas rookie Roddy Beaubois. He dazzled, scoring 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field (7-of-12 from 3-point range), recorded eight assists against only two turnovers. "He brings us a different dimension," Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle said. "We don't have this kind of angular speed, or supreme-type athlete at the point guard position right now. So he gives us a different look." Carlisle was cautious in his praise. It's only Beaubois' second NBA game, and he still has to learn how to play an NBA brand of defense. "When you come from a mid-league in Europe to the NBA, you have to ratchet up your level of awareness,"  Carlisle said.
  • Personal highlight of the day: I happened to have iTunes open on my laptop before the first game. David Brody, who works for the Summer League and has been at the controls for music in the Cox Pavilion, informed me that my playlists were showing up under the shared list in his iTunes. He offered to let me put together a playlist for the day to be played during warmups and timeouts. Of course, I happily obliged. Featured artists included Eric B. & Rakim, Z-Trip, James Brown, Le Tigre, De La Soul, and Daft Punk. 

Is having Michael Jordan as owner-operator in Charlotte more than just a conflict of interest? Speaking of Carolina guards -- does the acquisition of Ty Lawson mean the end of Anthony Carter's days in Denver? And what does organized chaos on the court look like at the junior high level? 

Michael JordanRob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm: "In spite of all of [Michael] Jordan's reasonable success in the recent past, having him as the head of an ownership group is not only ill-advised, but flat-out irresponsible. He's the head of basketball ops in Charlotte, and elevating him to the majority shareholder in the team bears one flaw of cataclysmic proportions: No matter how terrible of an executive Jordan is or ever will be, he holds his own purse strings. That means Jordan himself would have to be resigned to stepping down from his duties if that time ever came, which is not exactly the kind of thing you'd like to bank on. Jordan, as a player and a person, is renowned for his passion for the game, his refusal to quit, and his must-win mentality. On the court, those things are an asset. But in the case of an executive with a seriously blemished record, confidence becomes arrogance, resolve becomes stubbornness, and desire becomes insanity. The Bobcats can live with Jordan right where he is: just tasting the power of ownership but without the ball in his hands at all times. MJ is going to keep calling for that power and that responsibility as long as he's a manager in this league, but sometimes a person just needs to be told, 'No.'"

Anthony CarterJeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "[W]hy do so many Nuggets fans love to hate Anthony Carter? Maybe it is because he reminds us all a little too much of ourselves. We watch the NBA to see world-class athletes do things that we could never dream of doing. When we see Carter, he rarely does anything fancy and he always seems to be a heartbeat away from getting embarrassed. Maybe watching him play is a little too personal for many of us. Not only does Carter get the job done, but his real value is that he is a real value. It is amazing that Carter does what he does for the league minimum. That makes Carter almost invaluable for a team that has very little wiggle room when it comes to finances. With the presence of Ty Lawson next season Carter's place on the Nuggets roster could be in jeopardy. I thought there was a very telling quote ... where Chauncey [Billups] said that with Lawson on board maybe he can play fewer minutes. That was a pretty big condemnation of Carter ... [T]he primary area of concern with Lawson is his defense. If he cannot get the job done on the defensive end the Nuggets are going to have to have another option ... Until we see what Ty Lawson can do, I think it is a no-brainer that the Nuggets bring Carter back for next season and there are few players that bring as much value as Carter."

Red AuerbachZach Harper of Hardwood Paroxysm: "I started assistantly coaching junior varsity basketball for a local high school ... It didn't just find a place in my life. It didn't just become part of my schedule. It became my schedule ... I was so hooked after my first practice with this group of 10 high school freshmen and one eighth-grade child that I realized an even deeper love and appreciation for the game of basketball. We traipsed through the first couple of weeks of our summer league by learning the correct ways to play basketball and by learning the strengths and weaknesses of our team. We figured that our team wasn't very big or athletic but we had a lot of basketball skill from our best player to our 11th best player. We played our first game four weeks ago and in that game, we learned everything we needed to know about our team for the rest of the summer. We were good. Check that. We were REALLY good. We were chaos masked in peach fuzz, braces and XBOX Live handles. We were a running, pressing team that played harder than anybody we faced and more hectic than Don Nelson's brand of basketball could ever dream of being. And we won. A lot."

THE FINAL WORD
Warriors World: An interview with Anthony Randolph's high school coach.
Knickerblogger: A new Similarity Score for measuring players. 
48 Minutes of Hell: The value of George Hill.

(Photos by Streeter Lecka, Kevork Djansezian, Robert Riger/NBAE via Getty Images)

While the cellar-dwellers prepare their draft board, the NBA's elite have some tough calls to make. Will the Lakers pony up for Lamar Odom? Is Hedo Turkoglu worth exceeding the cap for? And the Cavs confront the reality that they're a couple of rotation players away from Eastern supremacy. 

Lamar OdomDarius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold: "We're at the point where [Lamar] Odom's true value to this team is no longer a mystery. When you talk X's and O's, he's the player that makes our strong side zone work as he provides the mobility and length to move from one side of the court to the other, pick up flashing big men, guard perimeter players, trap the ball handler, and still recover to the paint to rebound. He's the player that helps create our tremendous offensive spacing - playing as a PF that can initiate the offense, play on the perimeter (and be effective with the jumper or the drive), find creases in defenses to take advantage of the double teams that Kobe and [Pau] Gasol face, and also play in isolation from any position on the court (wing, top of the key, low block, elbow, etc). And when you talk team building and chemistry, he's also a real leader for the Lakers. Many will point to Kobe [Bryant] or [Derek] Fisher as our leaders - and rightfully so - but it's Odom that has been the stabilizer for our squad. He's been the bridge between our first and second units, the guy that organizes team dinners and brings in a chef for training camp, the guy that is in the middle of the huddle motivating and inspriring our guys for the battle ahead, and the guy whose lighthearted nature and devotion to the team keeps the locker room loose. We need this player."

Hedo TurkogluZach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "[T]o other teams, is [Hedo] Turkoglu really worth close to eight figures? John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating isn't perfect, but it's probably the best method we have of comparing players. Turkoglu's PER this season was less than Travis Outlaw, Marvin Williams, Grant Hill, Rudy Gay, Anthony Randolph and Richard Jefferson. And PER often punishes player who are shut-down defenders - something Turkoglu is not. We all know the intangibles of Hedo Turkoglu - his ball-handling skills, his abilities to create mismatches, his knack for shooting well in the clutch - are why he's so valuable to the Orlando Magic. But it can't be ignored how much Turkoglu fell off from last season to this season ... It's not like 30-year-old players regularly bounce back after down years. It's hard to imagine the Magic, or any team, think Turkoglu's career year of 2007-08 is the norm. The Turkoglu we saw this season is likely what most people expect out of Turkoglu going forward. Is 16-5-5 with a poor shooting percentage worth $10 million?"

Varejao and HicksonJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "A rotation big is hard to find. Really hard to find. And even if Andy [Varejao] comes back, this team, as Ben Wallace's corpse made clear in the ECF, is having trouble filling those minutes, especially considering Joe Smith seemed to be out of the playoff rotation. JJ Hickson is a great prospect, but even he has serious question marks at the defensive ends. The good news: LeBron James can give you 15 absolutely unbelievable minutes at the 4 on a nightly basis. The numbers were eye-popping ... this season when he played at the 4: A PER of 38, 39/11/8.5, and 2 blocks per 48 minutes, a higher net +/- per 48 minutes than his minutes at small forward, and he holds his man to less than a league-average PER defensively. And this is all with Wally [Szczerbiak] holding down the three spot and essentially doing nothing and getting exploited defensively. In the playoffs, Wally was simply too much of a liability. With a true rotation-quality swingman, the Cavs could take advantage of LeBron's ability at the four without leaving a hole, and it's much, much, much easier to get a rotation-quality swingman than a rotation-quality power forward."

THE FINAL WORD
Truth About It: The quotable Flip Saunders.
Celtics Hub: The Big Green honor the king of green.
Roundball Mining Company: The latest export to Asia? The Denver Nuggets.

(Photos by Noah Graham, Jesse D. Garrabrant, Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Are the Rockets peaking too soon? The Bulls' peaks and valleys are frustrating for their faithful.  And Seth Davis is at the peak of his game.  Take a peek at the TrueHoop Network: 

Luis Scola

Anup Shah of Rockets Buzz: "Remember what was going on with the Rockets a year ago at this time? Yao Ming was riding the sidelines and TMac pranced around like a God while the Rockets were in the midst of a 22-game win streak. They were working their way to the top spot in the Western Conference. Life was good in Houston.

And then the Celtics beat the Rockets. Ended their streak. And the Rockets slowly dropped to 4th in the West. People started doubting whether the team (or the streak for that matter) was legitimate. And when they fell in the first round to Utah, all those questions seemed to be answered.

This year, I'm left wondering if its the same deal. Last night, the Rockets topped the Raptors 107-97 and won their 10th straight home game. Carl Landry led the way with a career high 22 points and Luis Scola had 20 points and 16 boards (yet another double double for him). With the win and the Nuggets loss to the Pistons, the Rockets moved up to 3rd in the Western Conference. That being said, this is all too reminiscent of how well the team gelled right BEFORE the playoffs.

Are the Rockets peaking too early? Will they have the same fire left for the first round where it looks like they'll face Utah, Portland or New Orleans? How much different is it being without TMac this year than being without Yao last year? And the million dollar question: Will they get out of the first round?

It just scares me to declare this team a good team until they actually prove it when it matters."

Chicago BullsMatt McHale of By the Horns: "Beat the Nuggets at the United Center, fall to the Pacers at Conseco Field House. Defeat the Magic at home, lose to the Nets and Wizards on the road. Overcome the Rockets in Chicago, get overrun by the Bobcats in Charlotte.

See a pattern here?

The Bulls have developed a tendency to rock it at home and then play poorly when away, and they were truly terrible in last night's 96-80 road loss to the Bobcats. They couldn't shoot (39 percent), couldn't defend (the 'Cats connected about 49 percent of their field goals), couldn't hold onto the ball (18 turnovers), and couldn't seem to grasp that they were facing a team that's suddenly competing for the same playoff spot they're looking up at with hungry eyes. Hungry when they're playing at home, that is.

Young teams struggle on the road. I get that. The Atlanta Hawks pull the same Jekyll and Hyde routine. But Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich are veterans now, and John Salmons and Brad Miller are 29 and 32, respectively. So we have guys who should know when it's time to play with a sense of urgency."

Don NelsonRob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm: "Nelson has tapped into the unconscious and utilized its most prized weaponry.  Maybe that makes him both a visionary and completely bonkers.  But don't pretend that the thought hasn't crossed your mind.  When you see a team with Anthony Randolph, Anthony Morrow, Brandan Wright, and Marco Belinelli sitting around twiddling their thumbs, the natural instinct is to find a way to get them some playing time.  One problem: Stephen Jackson, Jamal Crawford, and Corey Maggette are pretty well-paid and proven, veteran roadblocks.

I wouldn't say that Nelson's plan is 'crazy enough to work,' because what 'works' in the conventional sense and what 'works' in this type of framework aren't exactly similar.  Nellie is sitting at the control panel and pressing buttons just to see if one of them causes the planet to explode.  Why would it matter if he accidentally turns the fan on?

I doubt very much that there is some grandiose, progressive goal in mind.  Nelson's just trying to appraise the assets he has in front of them.  But the uproar over these arbitrary benchings tells me two things: One, that no other coach would do this, and two, that it was something that was on all of our minds anyway.  In Randolph we trust."

THE FINAL WORD
Hoopinion: An insightful review of Seth Davis' new book on the 1979 NCAA Championship game.
Celtics Hub: The Celtics roster, mythologically speaking.
Valley of the Suns: Tempo, Tempo, Tempo. 
 

(Photos by Bill Baptist, Brock Williams-Smith, Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

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