TrueHoop: Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis on a stat geek's team?

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
6:23
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Monta Ellis
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe efficiency-minded Mavs have struck a deal with one of the NBA's most notorious gunners.

What wins in the NBA has always been tough to pin down. Big guys, scorers, teamwork, superstars, defense, veterans, athleticism -- all those things and more, in varying combinations, have gotten the job done.

But by and large, one thing has become clear, thanks to analytics, over the last decade or so: Possessions are precious, so misses and turnovers hurt. Stat geeks don't agree on how much they hurt. But certainly the thinking has evolved such that Allen Iverson's ball-hoggy performance, which won him an MVP in 2001, would earn him no such award in 2013. Now we know those points cost the Philadelphia 76ers a ton of possessions -- the league's points per game leaderboard is no longer the same as its MVP contenders. Today we tend to see the best players as those who score, with a nod to things like team offensive efficiency and defense.

The Iverson of today's NBA, meanwhile, is Monta Ellis. He's heroic, he's creative, he scores over and around far bigger players and shoots from everywhere. His points per game have always been sky-high. But Ellis has long been such a high-volume, low-efficiency (46 percent shooting) gunner over his eight seasons that when stat-minded owner Joe Lacob bought the Warriors you could set your watch; it was only a matter of time before Ellis was shipped out of town. And he was, to the Bucks, where, not surprisingly, he failed to lead the team to a marvelous renaissance.

Now, though, the Ellis tale takes a funny turn. Mark Cuban's team famously placed pioneering quantitative analyst Roland Beech on the bench with the coaches, and Cuban later credited the move as contributing to the 2011 NBA title. And now comes word that the Mavericks, of all teams, haven't just signed Ellis, but have committed to, according to Marc Stein's sources, at least three years and $25 million.

What's up with that? Some attempts to make sense of it:

1. It's different with Dirk

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle creates some of the league's finest offensive schemes, and he has a short time left to create great sets around aging superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Ellis just might be able to help.

As an incredibly tall super-shooter who can score efficiently from anywhere the instant he touches the ball, Nowitzki is the kind of player who can inspire some high-grade freakouts by opposing defenses.

While that's happening, the Mavericks have a track record of getting easy buckets for Nowitzki's teammates. Remember in the Mavericks' title run two years ago, when the nation swooned for Jose Juan Barea? I've had more than a few coaches laugh at the idea that Barea was the genius who created those buckets. The story is that the defense was tilted entirely toward Dirk, giving Barea uncommon space with which to work. He was good enough to shoulder the Mavericks' scoring on some key runs. But the rest of Barea's career, before and after, affirms the notion that the story of those runs was great Mavericks' spacing. Certainly those kinds of scoring binges are not normal for Barea.

One thought is if Carlisle can move the chess pieces in such a way to get Barea buckets in bunches, imagine what he can do with Ellis, who certainly has a bigger bag of tricks.

2. Creating shots has some value

In basketball stat-geekery, the ability to create a decent look has long been one of the hottest topics.

Old-school NBA coaches will tell you someone like Ellis has tough-to-measure value, because without him on the floor, many possessions would end with no good looks at all.

The implication is without a super-scorer on the court, the Mavericks would have had a spike in 24-second violations and other turnovers and bricks as uncreative offensive players struggle to create the space necessary to get off a good shot. By and large, that's hard to believe in the NBA, where the vast majority of possessions end in at least halfway decent shots, and almost everybody on the court led teams in scoring at lower levels.

However, did you happen to catch the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls in these playoffs? (I know the Nets remember!) The Bulls are thick with great defenders like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, but on offense those guys were missing the hell out of Derrick Rose, who has the ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and others. In Rose's injury absence, as both teams struggled to score, coach Tom Thibodeau turned a ton of possessions over to two guys who had histories as Ellis-esque (high-volume, low-efficiency scorers): Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli. Often they barely even called plays, just doing whatever they could, generally solo, to get something done with the ball.

And what they did was win the series.

The stat geek rule is that efficient decision-making is best most of the time. But there are those other times when it can be nice to have some gunners around.

Not to mention Ellis might be on the poster of players who were overrated by old box score stats. But that's not the same as saying he's awful by new stats. His plus/minus numbers have never been among the league leaders, but they have often been respectable. For instance, last season when Ellis was in the game, the Bucks' offense was 5.8 points better per 100 possessions than when he was out.

3. Cuban is no 24/7 geek

Cuban is closely identified with basketball's stat geek movement -- he's a staple at Daryl Morey's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, for instance. And he has been early and aggressive in using many stats-inspired approaches, from Wayne Winston to Beech.

However, Cuban has dabbled in many different philosophies, with a rotating cast of old-school and new-school advisers in his ear through the years. This is a team that celebrates both cold-hearted analytics and hot-blooded passion, as embodied by Cuban leaping (regularly) from his seat near the bench to yell and shout about things good and bad.

In other words, one factor could be that Cuban, just like anyone who loves basketball, likes to see people score exciting buckets. At that, Ellis has always been a superstar.

Bucks guard still on Atlanta's list

By Marc Stein | July 7, 1:39 a.m. ET

The Atlanta Hawks wanted to trade for Monta Ellis on deadline day in February.

They haven't lost interest, either.

The Hawks, according to NBA front-office sources, have emerged as a serious suitor for Ellis in free agency on top of the deals Atlanta has already struck with former Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap and returning sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

With the future of restricted free agent point guard Jeff Teague still uncertain, Atlanta has roughly $10 million in available salary-cap space to potentially use on Ellis. Sources say that the Hawks have also given center Andrew Bynum some thought, but all the latest signals suggest that Ellis is the Hawks' top current target.

In the event Atlanta proposes another short-term deal -- as seen with Millsap's two-year, $19 million pact -- its available cap space allows the Hawks to at least offer a healthy annual salary that other teams interested in Ellis would struggle to match. The Denver Nuggets are another team known to covet Ellis, for example, but Denver is said to be shopping veteran guard Andre Miller to try to create enough financial flexibility to make Ellis a competitive offer.

The Dallas Mavericks were another prime suitor for Ellis, but Dallas' decision to bring Hawks free agent Devin Harris back to Big D on a three-year deal worth in excess of $9 million realistically takes the Mavs out of the Ellis hunt. Bynum continues to the Mavs' focus after their deals with Harris and Jose Calderon.

The Milwaukee Bucks will actually have to renounce their rights to Ellis on Wednesday if he hasn't found a new home by the first day teams are officially allowed to execute signings and trades after the lifting of the league's annual moratorium on player business. If Ellis doesn't have a new team by then, Milwaukee would not have the salary-cap space necessary to formally sign O.J. Mayo ($24 million over three years) and Zaza Pachulia ($16 million over three years) without surrendering its rights to Ellis, who opted out of next season's $11 million to become an unrestricted free agent.

The Hawks' trade talks with Milwaukee on deadline day headlined by Josh Smith broke down when the Bucks refused to part with Ellis in the proposed deal.

Two best All-Star scorers take the floor

February, 16, 2013
2/16/13
9:03
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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NBAE/Getty Images
Kevin Durant (left) and LeBron James have the two highest scoring averages in All-Star Game history.
We preview the NBA All-Star Game with 10 facts you need to know.

• Kevin Durant won his first All-Star Game MVP award last year after scoring 36 points. He’s scored 30 or more points in two straight All-Star Games, the only player in NBA history to accomplish that feat. His career scoring average (28.3 points) is an All-Star record (minimum 60 career points).

• LeBron James, making his ninth All-Star appearance, ranks second in career scoring average (25.9 points) in the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James has scored at least 20 points in each of his past seven All-Star Games, the longest such streak for any player in NBA history.

• Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett were selected to the All-Star Game for the 15th time. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has more career selections (19). Bryant’s 15 selections have come consecutively, the longest active streak. His 271 career points are the most in NBA history and his four MVPs are tied with Bob Pettit for most all time.

• Bryant and Dwight Howard are slated to start for the Western Conference, but the Los Angeles Lakers enter the All-Star break in 10th place in the West. According to Elias, the Lakers could be the fourth team since the merger (1976-77 season) to miss the playoffs in a season with two All-Star starters on the roster. The last team to do so was the 2005-06 Rockets (Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming).

The Lakers will also become the first team in All-Star Game history to start two different centers in back-to-back years (Andrew Bynum in 2012).

• The Miami Heat lead the way with three All-Star selections -- all three of whom will start -- becoming one of eight teams with multiple selections. According to Elias, they’ll be the sixth trio of teammates to start the All-Star Game following a championship season, and the first since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy in 1986.

• Kyrie Irving is the sixth-youngest player ever selected to an All-Star team (he’ll be 20 years, 331 days old on Sunday).

• David Lee earned the Golden State Warriors' first All-Star selection since 1997 (Latrell Sprewell). That leaves the Milwaukee Bucks and the Sacramento Kings as the teams with the longest active streaks without an All-Star (nine seasons).

• Stephen Curry is averaging 21.0 points per game this season, the highest average for a player not selected to an All-Star team. Monta Ellis is fourth on that list (18.4), but he’s got the highest career points per game without ever being selected to the All-Star Game (minimum 400 games played).

Jeremy Lin
Lin
• Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets was the only player among the top 10 vote-getters who was not selected to the All-Star Game. He finished ninth, between Howard and Blake Griffin. Bryant led the way with more than 1.5 million votes, just ahead of James.

• The Eastern Conference leads the series 36-25, but the West has won two straight and three of the past four games. A third straight victory by the West would be tied for its longest win streak (three straight from 2002 to '04).

Who is the fastest player with the ball?

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
3:19
PM ET
By Mark Haubner
ESPN.com
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Getty ImagesSkills, scmills. Who's the fastest guy with the ball?
Mark Haubner is the founder of The Painted Area TrueHoop Network Blog. Here's his HoopIdea to make All-Star weekend more exciting.

Are you excited for the NBA Skills Challenge coming up on Saturday night?

Of course you’re not.

Watching point guards dribble around an obstacle course at half-speed, occasionally stopping to pinpoint a rudimentary chest or bounce pass, is a pointless exercise worthy of fast-forward treatment on your DVR.

Ten editions of the Skills Challenge have proved that the event not only provides minimal entertainment value but also is irrelevant to the conversation of sports fans. Though intended to showcase the fruits of passionate, dedicated training, if anything the Skills Challenge conveys a sense of apathy, with players going through the motions in an event in which they are required to participate.

It’s time for a change.

It’s time for the Fastest Man With The Ball competition to replace the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday.

(Note: the idea was first floated in this corner of the internet by John Krolik of Cavs: The Blog as part of a 2009 TrueHoop Network roundtable on improving All-Star Weekend, and deserves a re-airing in the HoopIdea era.)

“Who is the fastest man with the ball?” is a question that you’ll periodically hear on NBA broadcasts. It’s a topic that’s fun for fans to debate, and it’s a crown that players might actually aspire to compete for and hold.

The specifics of the rules can be up for debate. Let’s say players start on the baseline and go down and back the full court, needing to make a layup each time, before finishing with a sprint back to half court, for a total of about 70 meters with the ball. Perhaps two baskets could be set up at each end of the court for some head-to-head competition. There might need to be something like a minimum number of dribbles to prevent players from simply throwing the ball ahead and sprinting after it.

Feel free to tweak away at these ideas all you like. I’m sure we can come up with something reasonable. The key is agreeing on the premise of finding a way to measure top speed with the ball, something that would resonate with fans from casual to hard-core much more than navigating the Skills Challenge labyrinth.

Who would win the 2013 Fastest Man With The Ball competition? My guess is that the odds-on favorites would be John Wall and Ty Lawson.

Who else would be in my ideal eight-man field? Well, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo would be no-brainers if they weren’t injured. Without them, I’ll put Tony Parker, Monta Ellis, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison on my list as definites, and I have Eric Bledsoe just edging out Nate Robinson in the freak-of-nature category.

And yeah, I’m saving one last spot for LeBron James, just because I’d love to see what would happen.

Here's the best part: While the Skills Challenge doesn't really tell us who the most skilled player in the NBA is, the Fastest Man With The Ball would result in a meaningful title that could be debated and discussed all season.

I know I’d be eager to watch and see the results, and that’s a lot more than I can say about the Skills Challenge. It’s time to try something different.

The Bucks: Respectable to a fault

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
3:09
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are catalysts for the mildly surprising and watchable 13-10 Bucks.

The most vital tasks for any NBA franchise can be boiled down to recruitment and/or retention.

We can talk about the culture of an organization, its commitment to player development, and a ton of other ancillary qualities -- all of which have real value to a franchise. But ultimately, success comes down to a team’s ability to recruit the best talent, either through the draft or free agency, and retain those players’ services when they reach free agency. With precious few exceptions, teams need stars (preferably superstars) to contend, and if you’re not putting at least one on the floor, the ceiling for success is limited.

Fans in big coastal markets can’t really grasp how tough the Milwaukee Bucks have it in this regard. Milwaukee is a small, cold-weather market in an era when NBA players are more mindful than ever about what kind of city they want to live in and use as a platform to build a personal brand. For reasons fair -- and probably also a little unfair -- that recruitment and retention piece is a tough nut for the Bucks.

They can accumulate swaths of cap space, but have little hope that a top-15 player would accept a max contract to play in Milwaukee. Their most marketable player, the brand-conscious Brandon Jennings, probably will see the Bucks match an offer sheet next offseason. Jennings is more diplomatic than Eric Gordon, but you can imagine the feeling about staying in a Bucks’ uniform for four more seasons won’t exactly be giddy.

Adverse conditions aside, on most nights the 13-10 Bucks are a compelling on-court product. Jennings and Monta Ellis compose the Bucks’ speedy, dynamic backcourt. Both continue to post negative on-court/off-court numbers that show the team is more productive when they’re not on the floor (side note: Are we sleeping on Beno Udrih, who has been a savant the past two seasons, according to this metric?).

But offensively, both are a blast to watch and rank as the best starting ankle-breaking duo in the league (Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford take the overall honors when they share the floor in Los Angeles). Jennings and Ellis also have been driving forces behind pushing the ball for the Bucks, who rank sixth in the league in pace factor. That tempo hasn’t translated into results for the NBA’s 24th-ranked offense, but if you have to endure some inefficiency, watching Jennings and Ellis beats the plodding Sixers or Pistons as sheer entertainment.

The Bucks still make their living defensively, where they rank 11th in efficiency going into Wednesday night’s game at Memphis. Recognizing that the league pays a premium for offensive players and that many of them prefer glitzier destinations, general manager John Hammond has accumulated top-flight defenders and young guys with the potential to mature in that direction.

There are NBA defenses we appreciate for their proficiency, and then there are others who are downright fun to watch (think this season’s Clippers) because defenders swat shots, stuff guys at the rim, pick pockets that lead to fast breaks and generally wreak havoc. There’s always the potential for something exciting whose appeal is far greater to viewers than a well-executed defensive stop.

The Bucks are right there. They force turnovers at a higher rate than all but the Clippers, Hawks and Grizzlies. Hoopdata has a cool stat called “defensive play rates” -- a ratio of how many opponents’ possessions end in a block, steal or charge. The Bucks and Clippers own that stat, and it’s not a surprise.

Jennings is an inveterate gambler and thief. In Milwaukee’s recent big road win at Brooklyn, he recorded five steals in the half court. Jennings is a master at watching a ball handler’s eyes, eagerly waiting for the moment his man will avert his eyes away from Jennings to scan the court. When that happens, Jennings pounces. He jumps passing lanes and anticipates handoffs, when he squeezes between the QB and the running back to snatch the ball away. Jennings pokes, prods and jumps on outlet passes.


esse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesEkpe Udoh and Larry Sanders: Tree people
Over time, are these house bets? The numbers suggest they might be, but Jennings brings an unpredictability to the game that’s alluring.

In contrast to the iffy numbers hanging over the Bucks’ two scoring guards, the wings (Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels) carry the workaday responsibilities of stunting perimeter scorers and diverting guys to places on the floor they don’t want to go.

Meanwhile the young bigs, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, are maturing defensively at a staggering rate. In only their third seasons, they have developed into savvy, menacing pick-and-roll defenders.

Scott Skiles has his centers drop into the paint when ball handlers burst off a high pick, but unlike a lot of big guys who backpedal with the nervous look of a matador, Sanders and Udoh play angles and slide with ease between driver and basket -- especially Udoh. As a result, guards rarely get direct routes to the hoop and clean looks at the rim. Often those attempts get sent back at the shooters, as both Sanders and Udoh rank in the top 20 in block rate.

The Bucks have a few other nice assets up front. They feature rookie John Henson as yet another potential defensive ace, while Samuel Dalembert -- though he’s seen vastly reduced playing time -- is still a useful guy to have around.

Ersan Ilyasova has had a bumpy start to the season, but was widely praised as a solid offseason re-signing that gives the Bucks another look at the power forward spot, where Mbah a Moute also plays. Ilyasova has shown signs of life recently, and projects to improve over the winter.

Then there’s 6-foot-8 Tobias Harris (recovering from a laceration on his arm), who looks like a keeper.

We can’t fairly classify Milwaukee as Jazzian, at least not yet, but it’s a deep frontcourt that will keep the Bucks in the East's middle class and a possible low seed this spring.

Therein lies the rub for Milwaukee. The team suffers from lackluster attendance, and Bradley Center hardly offers fans the most cutting-edge production value. To compensate, ownership has made respectability a priority. For a team that desperately needs to find talent through the draft, that presents a serious conundrum. It’s not impossible to find future offensive stars in the middle of the first round, but it’s considerably more difficult.

Some remotely positive scenarios exist. The Bucks could find a star in the middle of the first round, or absorb some big-name players from teams looking for a trading partner to take on money and who are willing to throw a draft pick Milwaukee’s way for the trouble. They can hope Jennings develops into a top pick-and-roll practitioner who can cultivate a rapport with a couple of those bigs and improve his ability to finish at the rim. And to establish a top 5 defense they can pair with a better-than-average offense -- a combination that’s been known to get a few teams into the latter days of the postseason.

So the front office is in a bit of a bind, a similar type of dynamic that existed in Houston for a few years. They live in the NBA’s purgatory, a world where a promise to be a competitive squad under a capable coach works against a team because the NBA’s inefficient system punishes overachievement for middling teams. Every time the Bucks unearth a useful but non-elite ballplayer, they pick up a win or two and consign themselves to the treadmill.

Conversation starters for 2012-13

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
10:41
AM ET
By Kevin Arnovitz and Beckley Mason
ESPN.com

Getty ImagesMoving the needle in 2012-13: Andre Iguodala, LeBron James and Blake Griffin.

1. Will the Nuggets finally reward their army of boosters?

Beckley Mason: Oh man, I don’t wager money on the NBA, but let’s just say I emptied my vanity coffers investing preseason plaudits on this team. I’m worried that I’m so excited about how fun this team will be, I have overestimated how much it will actually win. The Nuggets represent the open style of team play I wish was more common in the league, getting the best possible shots -- layups and 3-pointers -- all game.

But I have also been encouraged by the preseason.

The early offense is clicking. Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried have been as advertised in the open court, and Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer look ready to make unexpected contributions. For guys like John Hollinger and Kevin Pelton, both of whom have Denver finishing second in the Western Conference, there’s clearly something here. As usual, the Nuggets project as a juggernaut top-three offense, but this season they’ll have the personnel to play defense in the half court.

Kevin Arnovitz: Aside from the stylistic appeal, where does this collective love for Denver come from? Is it a sincere belief the Nuggets have the necessary tools to mount a guerrilla war in the West and take down the likes of the Thunder or the Lakers or just a desire to see a verdict rendered once and for all that Carmelo Anthony is a bad guy?

I also wonder if the post-Melo Nuggets haven’t become a symbol for those who were repelled by the Anthony saga two years ago. In the era of the superteam, romantics want the Nuggets to prove that a team of non-superstars can compete for an NBA title through sheer effort, athleticism and creativity. A lot of basketball junkies want to live in a world where the 2004 Pistons aren’t a historical outlier and Anthony is the fool. The Nuggets represent their best hope.

Mason: Unlike those Pistons, the Nuggets are a rare case of a superstar-less team that wins without a superstar. Two different models. The question is …

2. What do you do in the NBA if you can’t recruit a superstar?

Arnovitz: The Moneyball principle was never about putting data ahead of scouting. It was about identifying an undervalued commodity in a sport and finding bargains in players who bring that commodity to a roster.

Individual defense -- loosely defined -- is probably that undervalued commodity at the moment, largely because we have a hard time defining it statistically. Players have traditionally been paid based on their offensive stats. You can jump up and down about this guy being a top-five defender (think Tony Allen) and that defense is 50 percent of the game, but we rarely see defensive specialists score the kind of contracts one-way offensive players like Monta Ellis do.

That’s what made Houston’s three-year, $25.2 million deal for Omer Asik so interesting. That’s a significant investment in a guy who most people around the league would regard as a one-way defensive player. Some thought it was an outlandish offer, but would anyone raise an eyebrow if a top-20 offensive player landed the same contract?

Mason: Let's just say Asik has a better chance of being worth $8 million a year than Charlie Villanueva.

Arnovitz: Sure, and if you’re a team that can’t get meetings with the LeBrons of the world and can’t realistically find your way onto the wish list of the truly elite offensive free agents, your best course of action might be to stock your roster with the best value defenders in the league, aspire to be a top-three defense and play it out from there.


Drew Hallowell/NBAE/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau: Defense first.
Mason: I agree, particularly because it takes a certain ingenuity to be a truly great offensive player. That’s just not the case on the defensive end, where position, intelligence and effort are the hallmarks of excellence.

I’d argue it’s easier to teach a player to be a great defender than it is to teach a player to be a dominant offensive force, which means coaching is key. Is there anything a young athletic team -- and aren’t all young teams athletic? -- can benefit from more than a great defensive mind?

Tom Thibodeau’s success in Chicago is an example of the impact a great defensive system can have, but what about Scott Skiles’ work with the 2009-10 Bucks? That team worked incredibly hard and, anchored by guys like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Andrew Bogut, had the league’s second-best defense. Even with a rookie point guard and Bogut out with an injury for the playoffs, Milwaukee came within a game of reaching the second round -- all on a serious budget (if you don’t count an injured Michael Redd’s $17 million contract).

Arnovitz: Here’s a question for the defensive savants ...

3. How can anyone match up with LeBron James and three or four shooters?

Mason: Thibodeau has been a master of aggravating big scorers in big series, but this might be the NBA’s unsolvable riddle between the lines. James’ new comfort as a scorer with his back to the basket has made him even better at commanding space near the paint. His most underrated skill is his ability to, with the flick of a wrist, throw a basketball 40 feet on a frozen rope to an open shooter. He throws passes so hard, and with such little warning to the defense, that he forces defenses to stay closer to shooters than any other player while simultaneously overwhelming any individual defender in front of him. Barring a player who can tangle with James in pick-and-rolls and one-on-ones on the block, I’m not sure there is a reliable way to defend the Heat with actual defense.

You have to defend them with your offense. Keep the turnovers low, take good shots and either pound the offensive glass or send at least four men back on every shot. James really kills in transition when defensive help is hard to organize, and he loves to receive a drag screen in the middle of the court and blast past the defense to the rim.

In terms of actual defense, no one bothers James as much as Chicago. Having two bigs -- Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah -- who can handle James in a switch at the end of the shot clock is vital to that success.

Arnovitz: Erik Spoelstra is cracking that code. Getting LeBron to buy into this role was probably the biggest coaching achievement in the NBA last season.

So much of the innovation in coaching today is assignment-based rather than the sculpting of a coherent system for your team. It’s about getting LeBron to buy in as a multitasking power forward, figuring out how to horse-whisper Carmelo into a similar role with the Knicks or crafting an offense for a team that has virtually no reliable outside shooting.

The great system coaches are an endangered species. Phil Jackson is back on his ranch, like Lyndon Johnson after vacating the White House. Although Ty Corbin has preserved much of what flourished over the past quarter-decade in Utah, Jerry Sloan is gone too. Mike D’Antoni is in exodus. Stan Van Gundy tailored a provisional system around Dwight Howard. Even a guy like Eddie Jordan was not successful but certainly ambitious.

Rick Adelman might be the lone graybeard, systems coach left. The rest of the league has moved to a predictable half-court game. The high pick-and-roll is the new iso, and why not? It stretches the defense across the floor for quick point guards who can devour most coverages and dance into the paint.

4. Is most of the cool innovation happening on defense, while NBA offenses are simplifying?

Mason: Thibodeau, Spoelstra and Dwane Casey are young coaches developing creative, principle-based systems for their defenses, which supports that.

The offensive piece we can trace back 20 years, when the NBA began to change the rules in ways that opened up the court and encouraged perimeter-based play. Coaches have come along with systems that can better account for the dangers presented by a quick point guard and three shooters, but we may be stuck with the spread pick-and-roll’s ubiquity until the next round of rule changes.

Still, I sense there is a crop of coaches toiling with terrible teams that will one day number among the NBA’s most visionary. Monty Williams has a record as a strong defensive coach and might have the most creative pick-and-roll schemes in the league. Rick Carlisle is one of the most flexible minds in the game. No one coaches to personnel as well, and his strange roster in Dallas augurs well for those who like to see a hoops genius pushed to his creative limits. I’m also intrigued by Terry Stotts, a Carlisle disciple. Who knows what he has in Portland? If his development chops are legit, that’s another interesting team that will fall well short of contending.


Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
DeMarcus Cousins: Beast or burden?
Arnovitz: Development is another one of the great unknowns in basketball, and here’s a head-scratcher of a case study:

5. If DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t evolve into a beast, whose fault is that?

Mason: I’ve seen Cousins play in person only once, and it wasn’t even in an NBA game. It was at the Goodman League versus Drew League exhibition in Baltimore during the 2011 lockout, a game that pitted NBA players from the Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles areas against each other.

The game was a microcosm of Cousins’ NBA career. He made jumpers and sharp passes, he bullied JaVale McGee and dunked all over him, and there was a moment when he picked James Harden’s pocket and gathered up the loose ball on the run, keeping his dribble at knee height. His skill and dexterity, at that incredible size, was jarring.

He also failed to finish the game. He argued with his exhibition coach (whoever that was) about playing time and touches, was constantly annoyed with the ref and let the event’s emcee, who dubbed Cousins “Bad Attitude,” get under his skin.

Cousins makes you shake your head for reasons both good and bad, and we have to attribute some of that weirdness to Cousins himself. But doesn’t it feel like the Sacramento franchise hasn’t been doing him any favors?

Arnovitz: This is one of my favorite counterfactuals: What if Cousins were drafted by the San Antonio Spurs? You can try it with any young player who has come through the league. Are we absolutely certain Adam Morrison or Michael Olowokandi couldn’t have put together decent NBA careers had they landed with more resourceful or nurturing organizations? An apprentice can thrive if the workshop is conducive to good training and his mentor rocks (see Lawson, Ty).

Fundamentally, these teams are workplaces, and more professional offices tend to get the best of their team. Individual strengths are fostered; shortcomings are neutralized.

If you’re lucky, you get to work at a place like this. Cousins hasn’t been lucky. So he can either succumb to the worst instincts of his environment or take it a personal imperative to defy them.

Mason: Player development is such a tricky issue because so much happens behind the scenes. But maybe the Internet’s leading Clipperologist can help answer this one ...

6. What does Blake Griffin have in store for the world, and what does the world have in store for Blake?

Arnovitz: I’ve been trying to figure out what to take away from Griffin’s drop this year in #NBARank. Last season, Griffin beat his rookie shooting and efficiency numbers, yet there was constant sniping about his shortcomings. Much of that criticism was legitimate but disproportionate, driven in some part by a certain strain of antipathy.

Yes, his defense needs to be faster and smarter, but it’s not as if Kevin Love and Zach Randolph are winning games as defenders. When Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom came into the league, they had few instincts defensively. But the Mavs have been significantly better defensively with Dirk on the floor the past few seasons, and Odom established himself as a strong, versatile -- even aggressive -- defender before he started taking on weight like a loading dock.

I sense most of the Blake-lashers know that, which means the charges are a little excessive.

Still, a lot of rational people's hoop sensibilities are offended by Griffin’s on-court persona. Many of them love playing the game, but Griffin wouldn’t be a guy they’d enjoy sharing the court with. At least that’s my interpretation.

Beck, it’s fair to say you’re one of those people, isn’t it? You asked Blake last season to cool it with the “WWE heel routine.” Over the summer, did you harvest any affection for Blake? If not, what’s wrong with playing the heel for a few hours a week?

Mason: One of the primary criticisms of Griffin’s play is that he is just a dunking machine. But if you were to design a power forward, you could do much worse than a machine that did a lot of dunking. Griffin led the NBA in dunks last season by a wide margin, which means he did a better job of getting the highest percentage shot in the league than anyone else. That’s a really good thing no matter how you slice it.

As you wrote, I still have a hard time squaring the guy who is pitch perfect as a book club sensei and the one who gets a preseason technical foul for going after an ostensibly innocent Paul Millsap. Blake stays mean-mugging at opponents and refs, but except for in the instances where it keeps him from getting back on defense, I can live with it -- and even smile at it.

I’m actually bullish on Blake going into this season. He has looked just as freaky explosive and deft around the rim as ever in the preseason, and his passing is world class at the power forward position.

Look, Griffin is going to learn to shoot and play better defense, but it will be a careerlong project. Because Griffin’s flaws are so glaring -- he doesn’t just miss free throws, he air-balls them -- they can seem to counterbalance all the good stuff he does. But that’s ludicrous. He is only 23, and every part of his game is on the upswing. His lower ranking this season was probably a reaction to being overrated after his first season and not an accurate representation of where his game is headed.

Monday Bullets

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
3:08
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
  • SI's Zach Lowe breaks down the financials of Serge Ibaka's $48 million dollar extension, and what they mean for James Harden: "If Harden gets that max deal from Oklahoma City, the Thunder will be paying the tax for at least the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Assuming a max deal for Harden and that Oklahoma City gets the No. 30 pick in each of the next two drafts, the Thunder would be set to have about $75.5 million committed to 10 players in 2013-14 and $77 million committed to the same number of players in 2014-15. Fill out the rest of the roster on the cheap -- forget the mid-level exception -- and Oklahoma City will be looking at $80 million payrolls in those seasons. The tax line is at $70.4 million now, and it will go up as league revenues rise. But most projections have the tax line somewhere around $75 million in the 2015-16, and very solid growth (about 3 percent) would have it jump only to $72.5 million in 2013-14 and $74.6 million in the following season. Note again: These are estimates. Under the harsh new tax rates that kick in for the 2013-14 -- just in time! -- the Thunder would be paying a tax bill ranging from $7.5 million to $12.5 million or so, depending on the exact tax level and how much the team’s ownership is willing to spend on the back of the roster. Is Oklahoma City, the league’s second-smallest market, willing to spend something like $85 million or even $90 million to fill a team?"
  • Bradford Doolittle projects only one team in the East to win 50 games (Insider) and for the Hawks to be the No. 2 seed despite losing Joe Johnson.
  • Jason Richardson learned how to play off a dominant big man with Dwight Howard in Orlando. That should work out well in Philadelphia, where he'll be paired with Andrew Bynum.
  • Philadunkia's Steve Toll imagines Masai Ujiri reacting to opportunity to trade for Iguodala: "He was told Andre Iguodala and he probably said something like, 'hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm let me think on it and I’ll call you back' then proceeded to rip his shirt off like vintage Hulk Hogan and go running around the Denver front office like a crazy person yelling 'Iguodalaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was just gifted Iguodalaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa for Afflalo and Harrington, Iguodalaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!'"
  • Answer: A Felix the Cat flag, screenplays and a stuffed turtle. Question: What did you miss at Michael Beasley's estate sale?
  • Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold digs into Dwight Howard's somewhat maligned offensive game and finds a lot to like, especially in pick-and-rolls: "Beyond his finishing, however, the authority in which Howard dives into the teeth of the defense instantly draws extra defenders to him. This magnetism creates the floor spacing and passing angles his teammates feast on. With Howard on the floor the three point shooting percentages of Ryan Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson were all much better than when he was on the bench."
  • Blake Griffin's face-up game needs work.
  • Meet future NBA player Mirza Teletovic. He plays a bit like Ryan Anderson, says Sam Meyerkopf of Euroleague Adventures.
  • SB Nation's Andrew Sharp hilariously explains that it's been a great decade to be a Wizards fan if you are into endearingly dysfunctional players. And funny names.
  • On Ball Don't Lie, Dan Devine explains why Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings have a lot to figure out next season: "In sum, teams playing the Bucks feasted when Jennings and Ellis shared the court, scoring an average of 107.7 points per 100 possessions of floor time, more than five points-per-100 below Milwaukee's season defensive mark, according to NBA.com's metrics. To put things in perspective, only one team put up defensive numbers that inept over the course of the full 2011-12 season -- when Jennings and Ellis shared the backcourt, the Bucks ceased being a slightly-worse-than-average defensive team and became the Charlotte Bobcats (107.8-per-100 allowed)."
  • In an interview with Patrick Hayes, Kirk Goldsberry (of Court Vision fame) reflects on seeing statistics in action during the NBA playoffs: "I put out the chart in April, which showed how extremely effective Durant is from the top of the arc. It’s his favorite shot, he shoots a ton there, he owns that spot. The fast forward to the playoffs when the Lakers are playing the Thunder, then last possession of the game, Durant is approaching the top of the arc and Ron Artest is for some reason sitting back six feet and we all know what happened -- Durant nails that shot. What struck me was why didn’t the Lakers know that was his best shot?"
  • A Lakers fan who feels guilty, sort of, about his team's embarrassment of both basketball and literal riches.

Pierce heads impressive night of stat feats

February, 8, 2012
2/08/12
2:23
AM ET
By Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
It wasn’t the best of days as far as shooting the basketball, but it was a milestone effort for Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce.

On a night in which he went 6-for-18 from the field and 2-for-10 from 3-point range, Pierce passed Larry Bird into second place on the Celtics' all-time scoring list in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats. Pierce now has 21,797 career points, trailing only John Havlicek on the team's all-time scoring list.

The best thing Pierce could say about his individual performance was that when he was on the floor, the Celtics outscored the Bobcats by 26 points in his 37 minutes.

That was due partly to his nine assists and eight rebounds, a plateau combination he hit for the second time this season.

Pierce is in a little bit of a shooting funk, but he's made up for it with his ballhandling and his ability to get to the free throw line. He has 34 assists and nine turnovers in his last five games.

Take the Timberwolves Seriously
The Minnesota Timberwolves are emerging as one of the surprise stories in the NBA this season. Recently, the player to emerge with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio has been center Nikola Pekovic.
Nikola Pekovic
Pekovic
The Timberwolves improved to 13-12 with a win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. It's the first time they've surpassed the .500 mark at least 25 games into a season since 2006-07. No players on that team are on this one.

Rubio, who tied a career high with 14 assists in this win, has gotten most of the headlines, with the Timberwolves now 10-5 when he starts.

But Pekovic, who scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds in 37 minutes in Tuesday’s victory, is averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his last four games, three of which are Timberwolves wins.

Pekovic was able to use his post-up game to his advantage on Tuesday, scoring six of his nine hoops on post-up plays. He entered the day averaging only one post-up basket per 26 minutes this season.

Rubio now has 13 games with at least 10 assists this season. That ties Steve Nash for the most 10-assist games in the NBA this season.

The Timberwolves won despite matching their season low for points in a game, with 86. They were averaging 105.6 points in their previous five games.

Wading Through
Dwyane Wade was 7-for-10 from inside five feet in the Miami Heat’s win Tuesday night, scoring 14 of his game-high 26 points on those shots.

Wade had struggled in his six games since returning from an ankle injury, making 55 percent of his shots inside five feet, averaging four baskets per game. Prior to the injury, he was a 67 percent shooter from in-close.

Statistical Feats of the Night
Three players put up impressive statistical tallies in defeat.

Monta Ellis scored a career-high 48 points for the Golden State Warriors in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Had he scored two more points, he would have had the 131st game of at least 50 points in franchise history. Of those, 105 were by Wilt Chamberlain.

Ellis’ teammate, David Lee, recorded his second career triple-double (the first came against the Warriors). Lee was the fifth player to record a triple-double this season. The others are Kemba Walker, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, and Andre Iguodala

Also, Derrick Brown of the Charlotte Bobcats went 10-for-10 from the field in the loss to the Celtics.
Derrick Brown
Brown
That's the most field goals made without a miss in a single game by a Bobcats player in franchise history.

Jake Voskuhl held the previous Bobcats record for most field goals made without a miss in a single game. He was 6-for-6 against the Washington Wizards on April 3, 2007.

The last player in the NBA to go at least 10-for-10 from the field was Pau Gasol on November 21, 2010, when he went 10-for-10 in a win against the Warriors.

Plus-Minus Note of the Night
Udonis Haslem tied a career-high by finishing with a plus-27 in the Miami Heat’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

All four Heat reserves finished with a positive plus-minus in a game in which Miami didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter, when it outscored the Cavaliers by 10. Haslem played 11 minutes in the final period. Mike Miller (plus-25) played all 12.

Thursday Bullets

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
1:40
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Ben Swanson of Rufus on Fire writes that, given all we know about Michael Jordan's competitiveness, it's not surprising he'd be leading a charge of hard-line owners to secure as much revenue as possible.
  • Kate Fagan covers the Sixers for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She also played basketball at the University of Colorado while the school was confronting a recruiting scandal and understands the complicated culture of big-time college sports: "Big-time athletic programs are not entirely unlike nation-states. Everyone wears the colors, says the pledge, and sings the school anthem. Everyone worships the logo, recites the fight song, and reports up the chain of command. Everyone's committed to defeating a common enemy: Ohio State or Nebraska or Michigan. This is what makes college athletics galvanizing and wonderful. And also, for anyone who has been inside it, it's what can make college athletics frightening. When you're inside, you're often a rah-rah believer. Blind acceptance exists that coaches and administrators, those who have established the institution's culture, possess absolute authority."
  • On Friday night, the University of North Carolina will play Michigan State on the USS Carl Vinson, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that hauled the body of Osama bin Laden to his burial at sea. Tarheel alma mater Danny Nowell is excited for the game. At HoopSpeak U, Nowell explores many of the same contradictions and mixed feelings Fagan has about the fervor of college sports in places like Chapel Hill and State College.
  • A French parody of MTV Cribs featuring a muppet Tony Parker, which concludes with some curious plant life.
  • I've received a number of emails from Canadians who maintain the NBA lockout is illegal under Ontario law, even though the NBA has a labor exemption under antitrust law in the United States (which allows it to impose things like a salary cap which would be illegal in other commercial sectors). Law professor David Doorey of York University looks at Ontario's Labor Relations Act and asks some interesting questions.
  • Noam Schiller of Hardwood Paroxysm has a memo for new Warriors head coach Mark Jackson: "According to BasketballValue.com, Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Dorell Wright, David Lee, and Andris Biedrins played almost 687 minutes together last season. in that time, they were outscored 1553 to 1484, for a net efficiency rating of -4.60."
  • ClipperBlog's Jovan Buha writes that Los Angeles native Tayshaun Prince could be an interesting fit for a Clippers team that's been looking for a solution at the small forward spot since the Taft Administration.
  • Tom Haberstroh has a conversation about the lockout with the hilarious, insightful, sometimes goofy and always thought-provoking behavioral economist Dan Ariely.
  • Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire occupy Sesame Street.
  • Several weeks ago, Knickerblogger's Robert Silverman observed Chris Bosh's charity fashion event at Saks Fifth Avenue: "All I could think about while staring at the huddled masses was the original (and awesome) 1978 Dawn of the Dead -- where zombies have overtaken a mall and are riding the escalators, numbly staring at stuff they couldn’t afford in some half-remembered haze, doomed for all eternity to repeat the pointless, boring, soul-deadening rituals of their former so-called life." Silverman goes on to explain, in further detail, how sports are like zombie movies.
  • Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro speaks about the influence the late Jim Valvano, who was fond of reciting poems to his players at N.C. State.
  • Seattleites take note: Metta World Peace feels for you. Among the other things he misses: "I miss the refs running down the court like they have hot tomales in their pants. I miss Charles Barkley commentating."
  • On his Twitter feed, Larry Sanders offers relationship/break-up advice: "When a good thing goes bad it's not the end of the world, it's the end of a world that you had with one girl."

Celtics feel the Heat for first time all season

April, 11, 2011
4/11/11
3:21
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive


For the first time in four tries this season, the Miami Heat figured out the Boston Celtics coming away with a 100-77 win Sunday. It was Boston's worst loss this season who fell to 9-10 in their last 19 games. The win moved Miami a game up on the Celtics for the second seed in the Eastern Conference with two games left to play.

LeBron James scored 27 points while Dwyane Wade scored 14 points and Chris Bosh contributed 13. The Heat's "Big Three" have played 71 games together this season and Sunday's contest was just the third in which only one of them scored as many as 15 points. The two previous games of that kind were both on the road: a loss at Boston on October 26 and a win at Orlando on February 3.

Elsewhere, the Oklahoma City Thunder handed the Los Angeles Lakers their fifth straight loss Sunday 120-106. It's the longest losing streak for the Lakers since they lost seven straight in March 2007. That was prior to obtaining Pau Gasol. It was the most points the Lakers have allowed in a non-overtime game since they allowed 121 to the Suns on November 14.

Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony's 19-foot jumper with four seconds remaining in the game lifted the New York Knicks to a 110-109 win at Indiana. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Anthony has made five go-ahead or game-tying field goals in the final ten seconds of either the fourth quarter or overtime this season (two for Denver and three for New York), the most for any NBA player. Monta Ellis, Rudy Gay and Deron Williams have each made four such field goals this season.

Finally, Chris Paul was 0-for-6 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the line while handing out ten assists in the New Orleans Hornets’ loss at Memphis. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us it was the fifth NBA game this season in which a player had double-digit assists despite posting a “goose egg” in the point column. Jason Kidd has done it three times and Jose Calderon once.

Not a Hollywood ending

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

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

The 2010-11 West All-Stars

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

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

(* Love replaces injured Yao)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2010-11 East All-Stars

Starters
LeBron James
Amare Stoudemire
Dwyane Wade
Derrick Rose
Dwight Howard

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

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

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

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

Mavericks garner another win vs Heat

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
5:55
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
The Dallas Mavericks made it 14 straight regular-season wins over the Miami Heat on Monday with a 98-96 victory in Miami. Dirk Nowitzki led all scorers with 26 points and Jason Terry scored all 19 of his points in the 4th quarter.

Terry was the first NBA player to score 19 or more points in a game, all in the fourth quarter, since Vladimir Radmanovic did it for the SuperSonics with 19 points on Dec. 7, 2002.

It was the second time this season that the Mavericks snapped an opponents' win streak of 12 games. They also did it against the Spurs back on November 26. Dallas is the fifth team to post a win streak of 12 or more games and snap an opponents' 12-game win streak in the same season.

Dwyane Wade is now 1–10 in his career against the Mavericks, having lost each of his past 10 games. That’s his worst record and his longest losing streak against any particular opponent.

LeBron James is now 6–10 against Dallas, his third-lowest winning percentage against any opponent; he’s 4–10 against both the Nuggets and Rockets.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 60 points on Monday, but had their worst combined plus/minus in a game this season.

Elsewhere around the NBA:

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Monta Ellis scored 44 points and made 15 of 20 field goals (75 percent) in the Warriors’ loss to the Rockets on Monday. It’s the second time this season Ellis has had a 40-point game in which he made at least 75 percent of his field goals. On October 27, the Warriors’ first game of the season, Ellis scored 46 points and made 18 of 24 field goals. No other NBA player has had a game this season in which he scored at least 40 points and made at least 75 percent of his shots from the floor.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Dwight Howard outrebounded his teammates, 20–18 in the Magic’s loss to the Hawks on Monday. It’s the fifth time this season that a player has outrebounded his teammates; Kevin Love has done it twice and Al Horford and Reggie Evans each did it once.

It’s the 10th game in which Howard has outrebounded his teammates, twice as many as any other NBA player since Howard entered the league in 2004–05; Marcus Camby has five such games.

NBA box score blowout

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
5:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
On Wednesday there were 12 games on the NBA schedule. The 24 teams combined for 2,443 points, which is the second-most in the NBA this season. Five teams won by twelve or more points including the Magic who beat the Timberwolves by 42 (fourth-largest margin of victory in franchise history). Besides the outburst in Orlando here are some primetime players that blew out the box score on Wednesday.

Kobe Bryant
Bryant
• Kobe Bryant went for 30 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists giving him the 17th triple double of his career. Bryant broke a tie with Kevin Garnett (16) and put himself alone in fourth place among active players for most triple-doubles. The three active players with more career triple-doubles are Jason Kidd (105), Grant Hill (29) and LeBron James (28).

• Rajon Rondo scored 17 points and dished out 15 assists vs. the Bucks. His 82 assists through the first five games of the season are an NBA record (he set the four-game record in his last game).

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU:
• Rondo’s teammate Paul Pierce scored 28 points in Boston's victory, including the 20,000th point of his career late in overtime. Pierce is the 20th player in NBA history to net at least 20,000 points for one team and he's the third player to reach that milestone for the Celtics, joining John Havlicek (26,395) and Larry Bird (21,791). The only other franchise with as many 20,000-point players as the Celtics is the Lakers, who have four: Bryant, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor.

• Dwight Howard had 18 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks in 23 minutes against the Timberwolves. He is the first player in NBA history to reach each of those stats in less than 25 minutes played (blocks first recorded in 1973-74 season). The only other player with at least 15 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in 25 minutes or fewer was LaSalle Thompson on November 3, 1983 vs. Denver (15 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks in 25 minutes).

Monta Ellis
Ellis
• Like the sun, this post sets in the West. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Grizzlies and improved their home record to 3-0. It's the first time Golden State has won its first three home games of a season since 1990, when the Run TMC crew (led by Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin) won its first six games at The Arena in Oakland (now known as Oracle Arena). Monta Ellis led the way with 39 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists and on the season is averaging 30 PPG and six APG. The last Warriors player to average at least 25 points and five assists per game in the first four games of a season was Hardaway in 1994.

Jeremy Lin makes good

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
2:44
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
The Bay Area's newest rock star is Jeremy Lin, an undrafted rookie guard from Harvard whose primary résumé item until recently was being the first player in Ivy League history to record 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals. The Dallas Mavericks were the only team to extend Lin an invitation to summer league to play behind highly touted guards Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin beat the traffic in Las Vegas, and earned an NBA roster spot.


Then something phenomenal occurred in Las Vegas:

Lin matched No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall possession for possession down the stretch of Lin's fourth summer league game.

Cox Pavilion is usually a fairly subdued venue, a place where people mill about, and where executives, scouts and media schmooze with only one eye on the game. But for about 15 minutes last Thursday, the place had all the intensity of an NBA playoff game.

Here was Lin tying up Wall on a drive, forcing a jump ball. Then Lin drained a 3-pointer, which he promptly followed with a 360 degree spin move in traffic. After that, he snatched a rebound away from JaVale McGee.

Those are just a few of the highlights.

On Wednesday, the kid from Palo Alto agreed to a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, his home team. Throngs of media turned out for Lin's introduction.

We caught up with Lin by phone on Thursday:

So how insane is this?
Awww, man. Very, very, very insane. Obviously, this is like my dream come true, playing in the NBA with this team. It's been a day or two and it still hasn't sunk in. I'm still riding this emotional high. It's been unreal. It really has.

In some sense, was this route better than being drafted -- where you might've been stashed or banished to the bench or even gone unsigned as a second-rounder?
It's way, way better. Now looking back, I'm so happy that I went undrafted. There are a lot of people who are going to get stuck in situations, or could've been in a better situation somewhere else, but they got drafted so that team has their rights. I honestly believe it was a blessing in disguise to go undrafted because if I were drafted, I wouldn't have had that opportunity to test the field and take offers from different teams. That's what helped me a ton in the end.

How important is the [Asian-American] identity stuff?
You know, it's important but not as important as my being a Christian. That's first and foremost the most important thing to me when it comes to my identity.

Is it more important to your folks?
No. We believe in the same thing. That's how our house is and how I was raised. We've always taken our Christianity and our walks with God as our first priority.

Let's talk about summer league last week. The John Wall Game ... which suddenly became The Jeremy Lin Game. All business stopped in that gym during the fourth quarter. Everyone was gripped by what was going on down on the floor.
Roddy [Beaubois] was hurt so I got a chance to get a little more playing time in the first half, which helped a lot because I got a chance to get comfortable. Going into the fourth quarter, we were down. I wanted something to happen. I was just, like, playing. It just felt like it was college again. I was just, like, out there. It felt very, very comfortable and very relaxed. It was such a natural feeling. It wasn't like that with most of the other games. In those other games, it was more like, "Wow, this is a job interview. I have to perform well." I had that kind of pressure. But in the Washington game, going against John Wall in the fourth quarter, trying to come back, I was just playing off instincts. It was the best quarter I had in summer league at the best possible time. If the Dallas Mavericks weren't scheduled to play the Washington Wizards, I might not be in the NBA.

So your feeling is that the Wall matchup was the decisive factor for your getting that contract from Golden State?
That was the biggest thing by far. Like you said, business stopped and that's what everyone was watching. Because it was John Wall. Nobody was really paying attention to me before that. But after that, people started talking about me.

You said you were relaxed, but you seemed pretty bent about that charge call on your 360 spin move.
I mean relaxed in that I wasn't thinking about how big the game was. I was just focused completely on the game. I wasn't thinking, "Oh, this person's watching so I have to perform well." You know what I mean?

Relaxed in a larger, just-go-out-and-play sense?
Right.

There were a couple of huge plays in that sequence.
That charge call on the spin move? I didn't even see the guy, so I had no idea if it was a charge. But I heard the crowd's reaction, so I immediately assumed that it wasn't. But looking back on the tape, it was a pretty tough call. I was shocked because the whole gym was rooting for John Wall the entire game from the very beginning. So at first I was like, "John Wall must've taken the charge." I didn't know if it was him or not, but that was the first thing that came to my mind. Then, I realized, "Wait, they're rooting for me." I was like, "Whoa. What just happened?" Because, like, thirty minutes ago everyone was rooting for him.

So what changed?
I'm not even sure.

Are you a pure 1? A 2? Does it matter?
I'm a 1, but I can also play the 2. But I'm naturally and primarily a point guard. A lot of people don't realize that I didn't play the 1 in college. I played the 2. In summer league I was splitting time. In my eyes, I'm an NBA point guard and that's my natural position. I believe that.

You’ll probably be seeing more minutes -- albeit practice minutes -- against Steph Curry and Monta Ellis than anyone else in the league. Do you have a scouting report on those two guys?
Steph Curry is a playmaker and we all know he can score and shoot. But he's really, really smart. He knows how to see angles and get into the lane. He's just a complete offensive player. We saw at the end of last season how good he is. Monta Ellis is a big-time scorer and a very explosive offensive player. He's really quick and primarily a slasher. I'm looking forward to learning a lot from both of those guys. I can't wait to see them play and pick their brains --

And guard them for two hours a day.
That's going to be awesome! I'm going to learn a lot. That's going to help me so much.

Have you gotten a call from either Joe Lacob or Peter Guber yet?
No. I've talked to Larry Riley, Bobby Rowell and Travis Schlenk.

Is there a shoe or merchandise deal in the works?
That's something for my agent. It's been so crazy, I haven't really had any time to think about it. Things have been so busy. I know there's interest in terms of different companies but I don't know exactly what's going on.

Is self-branding in any way a small part of your ambition? Will it be cool to have a shoe?
It would be cool, but it's not a goal or anything.

When you hit the scene at Harvard and you guys started to win, was there an academic celeb scene at Lavieties Pavilion?
Not that I noticed. But Arne Duncan showed up.

What was your favorite class at Harvard?
Sociology 128: Methods of Social Science Research. Basically, it was a semester-long sociology experiment. My friends and I did an experiment on the differences between athletes and non-athletes when it comes to motivation and results in the classroom.

And?
The non-athletes had the highest GPAs, then the walk-ons next, then the recruited athletes. That's what we anticipated. But one of the other interesting things we found was that some of the athletes thought that they would've gotten better grades had they had more time. But then some of the non-athletes thought that some of the athletes were lazier or naturally not as smart. So there was a difference in perception of why that disparity exists -- but the disparity is indisputable.

Do you think there's a sense of entitlement among some athletes?
I think there's a sense of entitlement for both.

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