TrueHoop: Nick Young
Despite concern among the mustachioed and unmustachioed alike, the NBA's Christmas Day lineup has become a holiday unto itself.
With football occupying a large portion of the viewing public's attention as the calendar year winds down, the first month-plus of the basketball season tends to be more of a warm-up for most. Christmas Day, then, has become something of an unofficial start to the season for late arrivals over the past few years, and the league has welcomed all with open arms by providing a smorgasbord of premier, nationally televised matchups.
To prepare for the full slate at hand, here are 10 things to know about the 10 teams hitting the NBA hardwood on Dec. 25.
1. The Kobe-LeBron rivalry is over before it began
The puppets are always the first to know.
In 2009, just before LeBron James officially established his MVP bona fides and Kobe Bryant proved himself on a championship stage without Shaquille O’Neal, their clash over the same rarefied air space defined the NBA. James’ Cavaliers and Bryant’s Lakers were emerging as the league’s controlling elite, and with the two seeming predestined to meet in the NBA Finals at some point in the near future, if only because we deserved such a matchup from the basketball gods, Nike launched an ad campaign featuring plush likenesses of the All-Star wings sharing the same apartment to capitalize on the momentum.
But arguing over excess chalk dust on their Muppetized loveseat likely will be the only important postseason meeting between the two in their careers. What at one point seemed an unavoidable collision course turned into two highly accessorized ships passing in the night. Their seven-year gap between human and basketball years simply led to unparalleled peaks, and now what we’re left with to show from all the debating, hyping and hoping, besides the residual effects from the careless rearing of poor Lil’ Dez, are two Christmas Day blowouts in favor of James’ team, in 2009 and 2010.
The appetite from the league at large, though, remains unsatisfied. Why else would Heat-Lakers be plopped on the schedule this offseason right in the middle of Bryant’s recovery from an Achilles injury, instead of, say, Heat-Pacers? If market size does indeed matter so much, why not choose the Los Angeles team contending for a title?
Given James and the Heat's otherworldly production and Bryant and the Lakers' current struggles, both physically and personnel-wise, the rivalry that figured to end as an all-timer will never be the same, even if what we got never seemed enough.
Twenty-eight is old in basketball years, but Chris Paul has probably seemed that way for some time now. LeBron James is 28, too, but his mass appeal keeps him at the forefront of the youth culture, even amid all that family-man branding. Blake Griffin (24) and DeAndre Jordan (25) feel like they’re decades apart from their point guard. In his own way, the reserved Kevin Durant (25) does, too. There’s always been an extreme poise emanating from Paul, whether it’s assuming control of the offense by sheer food-chain protocol or wrangling his chubby-cheeked son in the Clippers’ locker room. Even at his flashiest, knifing through lanes with precision dribbling, it’s all about seizing complete control.
Indeed, Paul can dazzle, but he’d rather pull it back and process a situation. While centers stretch out to the arc and coaches push the pace to Ferrari-like speeds, Paul is content in his Volvo, getting exactly where he needs to go without any complications.
But with a roster built to get up and down more so than in his previous two seasons in Los Angeles, Paul has had to soup things up a bit. After playing at the 25th-fastest pace in his first season and the 19th-fastest in his next, Paul’s Clippers now rank eighth, among the Houstons and the Denvers. That plus the added slack taken on after the injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes have led to a hit in his shooting numbers, which surely nags him, but he’s never been more efficient as a Clipper, and most of his other stats are up (rebounds, assists) or near highs (points) for his stint in L.A., too.
The proliferation and growing public consumption of analytics only deepen the appreciation for the decidedly old-school game manager. The passing data from the SportVU tracking system is a virtual shrine to his mastery of the position: He leads all others in assists per game, total assists, secondary assists (tied), assist opportunities, points created by assists and points created by assists per 48 minutes. There’s only one other category, passes per game, in which he ranks second.
What’s old is new again, or maybe it’s the other way around. But the Clippers are looking forward again after some early hiccups, and Paul is again on track to finally capitalize on the window he has in his prime years, however long it may last.
Each cut to the rim, each stroke on his wizardly mane, each up-and-under move to draw a foul will probably always sting a little back in Oklahoma. There's no replacing a James Harden, even if the kiddies being groomed in the second unit are beginning to look like important pieces in the Thunder's championship quest. But the two dynamic superstars still lurking on the wings certainly haven't slowed down in their sixth season together.
According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Info, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently the highest-scoring duo in the NBA for the third consecutive season, with 49.7 points per game between them. Only four other duos in league history have accomplished that for three straight seasons or more, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen the last to do so from 1989 to 1993 with an NBA-record four.
First, a few words from LeBron James on the shimmering, Y2K-influenced sleeved jersey each team will don for Wednesday’s five-game slate, via the Miami Herald’s Joe Goodman:
LeBron said in pregame that the Heat’s shooters “are already upset about” the Christmas jerseys.
LEBRON: "I can’t have my shooters out there worrying about some sleeves and not shooting the ball."
Shooters are a neurotic bunch. Ray Allen, the greatest long-range threat in history, is more programmed than any player at this point: He follows the same warm-up routine, eats the same pregame meal, shaves his head at the same time. He once told Jackie MacMullan that he has “borderline OCD.” Anything that alters that ritual could pose an issue, and imagined or not, those teeny compression sleeves present just enough foreign element to unravel what is largely a life of repetition for the modern pro basketball player.
The Warriors, then, would be among the teams most likely to feel such an effect. Golden State has built its brand around its deep shooting, and currently ranks second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and among the league leaders in percentage of shots taken from 3.
But after serving as the lab rats for adidas’ grand sleeved experiment last season, the Warriors have sported white, home jerseys with the new look and shown no apparent ill effects from it. In the four games they’ve broken out the sleeves in 2013-14, the Warriors have shot 46.5 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3, which is right on par with their season averages of 46.2 and 40.2 (and among the more ridiculous stats ever published).
Brooklyn knew it was operating without a net. You don't hand out draft picks like grocery-store coupons without feeling the pressure, the doubt of it all, even with all those barrels of cash to wipe your brow. And somehow, that self-awareness only makes the crash landing of the Nets' championship hopes, all the way down to fourth from the bottom in the putrid Eastern Conference, that much more gruesome.
Here's a look at all the grim and grisly carnage thus far.
At this point, Kobe Bryant’s snarling underbite is a tradition that ranks right up there with the more menacing characters of Christmas-season story time. The 17-year veteran has played in more Christmas Day games (15) than anyone else in NBA history and has accumulated the most career Christmas points (383). Really, what use is a Christmas ham these days without a dozen contested midrange J's to go with it?
This year, though, your yuletide bombardiering will come not from the itchy trigger finger of Bryant, who is expected to miss five more weeks with a knee fracture, but courtesy of the “Swag Mamba,” Nick Young, who in his first season with his hometown Lakers enters the Christmas spotlight for just the second time.
The cockatooed sixth-year swingman certainly lacks the gravitas Bryant brings these days, but any game that prominently features Young, a smiley SoCal native with the O’Doul's version of Kobe’s skill set, is something of an impromptu field day -- all fun, all the time.
And with Bryant again aching, there’s been more Swag Time than ever: Young, whose shot selection ethos befits an “If it fits, I sits” cat, leads the Lakers in attempts (16.3) and points (21.3) in three games sans Bryant, and has even been given spot duty at the 1 for the point guard-depleted Lakers despite one of the very worst assist ratios among small forwards.
So, another LeBron-Kobe clash may not be in the offing, but these modern-day Lakers are a special kind of “Showtime” with the blissfully oblivious Young as their guiding force. Expect enjoyment, if not fierce competition, to ensue.
Anyone who has ever had to procure a postgame quote from Dwight Howard wouldn’t be surprised that the All-Star big man needed time to do anything, but 20 months and three teams after undergoing back surgery, the now-28-year-old center is beginning to look as close to his heyday as he may ever get.
Smart people across the Interwebs have discussed the progressive tactics the Rockets’ offense has employed to great success, and amid the revolution, the back-to-the-basket big man Daryl Morey nabbed from the Lakers this past summer is having his best month offensively since April 2011, with 21.2 points on 62 percent shooting, 14.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 60 percent free throw shooting (!) and 100 percent
Outside of PER, virtually all of his advanced numbers on the season are better than they have been since 2010-11, and while he’s no longer the pre-eminent rim protector in the league, he’s become a force again in the paint on both ends of the floor. It seems the four-out, one-in approach on which he thrived in Orlando and now is again (to a certain degree) in Houston is more to his liking than blowing off pick-and-rolls. A happy Dwight is indeed a productive Dwight.
Need another downer while the yuletide joy is flowing?
Facing off against the Nets on Wednesday will be one of the few teams that can feel them in all their catatonic pain, the Chicago Bulls, who have wandered the earth aimlessly after losing Derrick Rose once again.
It’s quite fitting, given this fever dream of a Knicks season, that Carmelo Anthony joins their Magna Carta-length list of question marks with a bum left ankle right before they need him most. The Knicks obviously rely on Anthony and his 26.3 points per game; his 28.9 usage rate is fourth-highest in the league; and he's one of the team's few major contributors with a plus/minus better than minus-1 on the season, per NBA.com/stats.
But while Kevin Durant and the Thunder roll into Christmas Day as the most imposing challenge in the league right now, they present the Knicks with one of their best chances yet of obtaining a first big win of the season -- if Anthony is active.
Despite the Thunder’s dominance of late, in the 12 games Anthony has faced Durant over the past seven years, the elder Melo is 11-1, according to Elias, with the lone loss coming in double overtime when Anthony was still on the Nuggets and the Thunder didn’t yet exist. In those matchups, Anthony, currently the No. 2 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 30.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting, while Durant, currently the No. 1 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 26.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting. It should be noted, though, that Anthony has played Durant just once in the past two seasons.
Of course, all of that may not have mattered even if Melo were the pinnacle of physical health: The Knicks (9-18) are 0-8 against the Western Conference this season; the Thunder (22-5) are 7-1 against the Eastern Conference.
Who said it: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich or Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 rendition of “A Christmas Carol”?
A.) “I want some nasty.”
B.) “You’ll want the whole day off, I suppose.”
C.) “Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”
D.) “We didn’t send mariachi bands or birthday cards or breakfast in bed.”
E.) “It’s all humbug, I tell you, humbug.”
- NBA stars are severely underpaid vis-a-vis their market value to their sport. They're not the only ones. From Paul Doyle, a track and field agent, via Sports Illustrated and Forbes: "'Bolt is the highest-paid athlete in the history of track and field, but he’s also probably the most underpaid athlete in the history of track and field.' ... His appearance at the Penn Relays in 2010 resulted in the highest single day attendance (54,310) in the event’s 118-year history."
- Younger (and newer) Clippers fans need to appreciate that if some of the longstanding fans of Clipper Nation seem cautious headed into 2012-13, they have their reasons. From John Raffo of Clips Nation: "I'm old enough (and grey enough) to have seen this before. Twice before. While, admittedly the long winter of the nineties is not nearly as interminable as the distance between 2005-6 and now, but I believe I've learned my lesson. Unless the Clippers are very very careful, unless they commit to inspired coaching and visionary management."
- As Rob Mahoney writes at The Two Man Game, teambuilding is rarely a linear process. And at Red94, Rahat Huq wonders if most "young cores" are destined to fail.
- Philadunkia's Tom Sunnergren chats with new Sixer Nick Young. If anyone in Philly has a place to lease, Swaggy P is looking.
- Former Atlanta Hawks standout Dan Roundfield tragically died while swimming in Aruba. Roundfield was a pro's pro -- a dogged defensive player and a three-time All-Star while with the Hawks. Danny Solomon, a Hawks ballboy during the 1980s and my classmate at the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta, told the AJC's Michael Cunningham that Roundfield was “the nicest dude in the world," but that, "[b]ack then, all the centers were very, very strong. That’s back when it was ‘real’ basketball and if you tried to go to the hole against a guy like Roundfield, you would go straight down to the floor. He was known for being really rough. He was a stud down low."
- Chris Bernucca of Sheridan Hoops runs down the remainders in the free agent market. The list isn't void of useful players: Carlos Delfino, Anthony Tolliver, Mickael Pietrus and Jannero Pargo might not be world-beaters, but worse players have been signed to guaranteed deals this offseason.
- When economist Tyler Cowen hosts a talk, he often has the audience write out questions in advance. Cowen says that, at one recent event, "I was asked about Jeremy Lin, and whether he or LeBron James did more to maximize global wealth. I suggested that Lin did more to maximize utility, as his fame in Asia did not much detract from the fame of any other NBA player, but that LeBron did more to maximize wealth, in part through endorsement income."
- Get ready for the "Obama Classic" with Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony and Patrick Ewing.
- A man from central Illinois is picking up and moving his family to Haiti to build a basketball court and to teach.
- Attention Phoenix press corps, especially those in the locker room: Kendall Marshall values his personal space.
Neither of these guys has a conscience with the ball in his hands. Is this a good thing?
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Do you trust a man without a conscience, one who operates on a different -- even nonexistent -- moral code?
For basketball purists, that’s a tough one. We subscribe to the high-minded principles of “quality shot selection,” of “taking what the defense gives you,” of “not settling.” These tenets make up the basketball code we romanticize in “Hoosiers” and in the longevity of the San Antonio Spurs.
But Los Angeles Clippers’ swingman Nick Young doesn’t subscribe to this code -- not by a long shot. When Young has the ball in his hands, he doesn't factor his decision-making the way coaches, fans and analysts would.
"I'd say I have no conscience, to a certain extent," Young says. "I feel like I can make any shot. That's something that's been in me since I started playing the game."
Young doesn't deny that he takes a few ill-advised shots a game, but he won't apologize for them. And on Sunday in the Clippers' improbable comeback, he had nothing to be sorry about. He went for 19 points on 11 shots, including a trio of 3-pointers in a span of a minute to shave a 12-point deficit to three in a flash.
Most of those shots on Sunday were open looks, but for most of his tenure with the Clippers the degree of difficulty on his shot selection has been astronomical.
"Those shots? I still think I can make them," Young said. "Some people might think, 'He's glad to shoot that shot,' but I practice those shots."
This entire premise can offend certain sensibilities. I ask Young, "Really? You practice taking contested 21-footers inside the arc with two guys on you?"
"I know I can make 'em," Young says.
This certitude can drive an empiricist nuts. An average NBA game has about 94 possessions, and if you have a guy like Young chucking up bad shots on three or four of those possessions, that can kill your efficiency. Look at the point differentials of most NBA teams -- a bucket or two per game is the difference between a top-four seed and a seat at the draft lottery.
Despite these truths, is it possible that Young has a point? Are some of those bad shots loss leaders that ultimately pay off in a game like Sunday night's?
In an effort to try to make sense of whether a lack of conscience can translate to success, I go in search of Gilbert Arenas.
After Arenas dropped 61 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in December 2006, Kobe Bryant famously said of the then-Washington Wizards star, "He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. I really don't think he does. Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those, and they're just terrible shots. Awful. You make them and they're unbelievable shots."
Setting aside the irony of the source, Bryant gets to the heart of the matter. Many interpreted his comments as a swipe at Arenas, but it wasn't. Bryant was just delving into the mindset of the unconscionable shooter, who is neither good nor bad -- but just is.
On Monday, Arenas had plenty to offer on the matter:
The best players in any sport in the world have no conscience.
It's like someone who has ADD (attention deficit disorder). They have a creative mind. They can see things that other people can't see. They can do things that other people can't do. But once they take the medicine, it calms them down -- just like a coach who gives a conscience to a guy who doesn't have a conscience.
It's like an assassin. In any movie, he starts off killing everybody, but then he finds the girl who stops him from being an assassin. That's just like players. The reason Steve Nash can make the passes he can make is because nobody has ever told him when he makes a turnover, "Don't make that pass." Same thing with Rondo. It gives them that freedom to expand and create anything he can think of.
I challenge Arenas on the notion that really bad shots are part of the creative process, that a guy somehow can't be both judicious and aggressive, but he rejected the premise that there's anything wrong with taking a 20-footer with a defender in your face and time on the shot clock:
His creativity lets him do that. It's a shot he thinks he can make. Just like Kobe. If you think about the best players in the world, they have no conscience. They try anything. They do anything. Brett Favre -- he threw any pass he thought he could throw. That's his creativity. That's what he's like. He's going to fail and he's also going to win.
But a guy with a conscience won't pull that trigger.
I ask Arenas whether you can be a great player and still have a conscience.
"I don't think so," Arenas says. "Michael Jordan never had a conscience. A.I. didn't have a conscience. Kobe doesn't have a conscience."
I counter that Kevin Garnett has a conscience, that he exercises an uncommon discipline and has still been one of the best players of his time.
And that's why he doesn't get the ball in the fourth quarter. That's why they give it to Paul Pierce, because he has no conscience. LeBron has a conscience. He cares what you think about him. But Kevin Durant doesn't have a conscience. D-Wade doesn't have a conscience. But Bosh has a conscience.
You're born with it or you're not. Some people are what I call "killers." Some people have the killer mentality and that's who you want with the ball at the end of the game. You want them taking that shot because they don't care about failing -- even if it's a bad shot.
It's hard to let Arenas off the hook on this point. Does he deny there are bad shots that cost you basketball games?
That's the game of basketball. You can't go around and play like we did yesterday -- like college basketball when you're up 20 with a few minutes left and you're stalling and you do the four corners, and before you know it, you stop being aggressive.
So the Grizzlies developed a conscience at the wrong time in Game 1?
"Yes," Arenas says.
Arenas' theory that conscience is a congenital trait is interesting. In his worldview, a player can't develop -- or rather shed -- his conscience. He's either hard-wired to kill, like Nick Young or, on a larger scale, Kobe Bryant. Or he's not.
Arenas might be half-right, half-wrong:
A lack of conscience might be a necessary ingredient for Arenas' "killers," but those moral vacuums aren't created equally.
On Sunday, we saw the best of Young's nihilism. Without it, the Grizzlies are up 1-0 in this series. But down the road, it's possible a lack of conscience might shoot the Clippers out of a game.
Such is the fickle nature of the code.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The Clippers and Thunder tangled for the second time in six nights -- to the same result.
The first half was an eyesore, as the Thunder led nearly the whole way despite a bevy of turnovers by both teams. Then the Clippers rallied back to drop the Thunder 92-77 on Monday, five nights after Los Angeles went into Oklahoma City and stole one on the Thunder's home court. The game was a revelation for the Clippers, and a nightmare for the Thunder after halftime.
- So many of the Clippers' wins this season have been of the lightning-in-the-bottle variety. Randy Foye will get hot from long range, or Chris Paul will emerge from the bullpen late in the fourth quarter and carry the team to an improbable win. A win is a win -- but the best teams in the league rely on reliable systems and methods to chalk up victories. The Clippers, on the other hand, have been masters of serendipity. But that wasn't the case Monday night, when the Clippers collectively identified Oklahoma City's weaknesses and attacked them. Playing a grown-up brand of basketball, the Clippers threw a steady stream of different defensive coverages at the Thunder. When the Thunder confronted their strengths with strength, the Clippers made reads and found workarounds. This is how mature basketball teams win big games in the NBA and, in taking out the Thunder with substance and savvy, the Clippers played up to their potential Monday. The pyrotechnics will explode at some point; the Clippers' challenge going forward is adopting a series of principles that will guide them when they don't.
- The turning point of the game came toward the end of the third quarter when Nick Young exploded for eight points in three possessions. Prior to Monday, Young had been terrible for the Clippers, failing to shoot over 50 percent from the field in any of his 17 games with the Clippers. That was largely a function of looking for the wrong shots in the wrong spots. But during this stretch of possessions, he played off the Clippers' primary action: the middle pick-and-roll between Paul and Blake Griffin. On the first shot, the Thunder trapped Paul, then the other three OKC defenders converged on Griffin in the lane. Griffin takes a lot of grief as a "one-dimensional" player. Ever seen him move the ball out of a triple-team? That's what he did there to find Young open for two. One possession later, Paul ran a little slip screen with Griffin. This time, Young needed some help, so DeAndre Jordan pinned Kevin Durant (Young's man) out of the play. Young was open for a 3-pointer at a spot a couple of feet deeper than the previous one. On the third possession, the Clippers ran that Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll one more time. Again, a trap and, again, Durant got caught helping middle (to pick up Jordan on a duck-in) rather than staying at home on Young. It's safe to say Paul is a guy who knows how to make hedging defenders look silly. He did here. In a flash, the Clippers shaved the Thunder's lead down to a single point. Young finished with 19 points on 11 true shots without a turnover. The swag was back, at least for a night, and a very opportune one at that.
- In their heyday, the Celtics got away with a lot of turnovers, largely because they were impossible to score against for long stretches of basketball. The Thunder have a reasonably efficient defense, but they can't continue to cough up the ball on nearly a sixth of their possessions, because a team like San Antonio or the Lakers -- or even the Clippers, who protect the ball well -- will punish them for it. Russell Westbrook, who scored the Thunder's first seven points, couldn't find his cutters in the first half, errors that resulted in a slew of turnovers. In the third quarter, Serge Ibaka couldn't make a simple entry pass into the high post, and Westbrook found a wide-open Vinny Del Negro for a kickout. All of it made for very bad news, as the Thunder couldn't get out of their own way.
- The Clippers started dabbling with the zone a couple of months back when their man-to-man defense was in shambles. The schemes weren't terribly effective, but you could see the faint sketch of something that could potentially work. The Clippers are quick and long, and they certainly had the potential to compensate for their lack of reliable isolation defenders by using their size and athleticism in the zone. Gradually, that zone defense has improved, and it hummed just before halftime. Jordan was everywhere, and the Clippers were quick to match up the instant the Thunder found a seam. I caught up with Chauncey Billups after the game to ask him about the Clippers' zone, which gave up only seven points in 13 possessions. Billups was miffed when Flip Saunders installed the zone in Detroit, because he took it as an affront to his Pistons' defensive capabilities. Zone, as Metta World Peace recently told me, was for teams that can't defend in man, and for a certain proud vet, the scheme still carries a stigma. "We looked at it like it was a weakness, like you couldn't stop anybody," Billups said. "But it's a good gimmick to change up a defense." The Clippers, with Jordan anchoring underneath in Chandlerian fashion, are making it work. The Thunder couldn't lay off the long jumpers (though Durant missed a couple of open ones from long range), or they drove recklessly into the teeth of the zone. No flashes, few cuts and little patience.
- Oklahoma City couldn't make sense of the Clippers' varied coverages. The Clippers ran under Westbrook on pick-and-roll plays -- but not the big man -- giving the eager point guard just enough rope to hang himself ... but not too much. The Clippers played Durant straight-up in isolation or in the post, with the occasional trap. Sometimes they'd switch when Durant came off the pindown, sometimes not. "The big thing was to make [Durant] catch as high as possible," Kenyon Martin said. "Sometimes out of timeouts we'd switch the coverage if we saw he was getting low, and sometimes we made a read." Durant shot 7-for-18 from the floor, and drained 10 of 12 from the line.
- Aside from the handful of lousy close-outs, the Thunder didn't play a poor defensive game. Their defensive pick-and-roll strategy can best be characterized as a "long show." The big man -- be it Kendrick Perkins or Ibaka -- stayed with Paul until the point guard gave up the ball, and this creates all sorts of confusion behind this quasi-blitz. The Clippers' wing would stagnate in the corner, while Griffin would shuffle around the high post desperately looking to provide a pressure release for Paul. More times than not, it worked, even against a menace like Paul. The Clippers point guard finished with 12 points (5-for-12 FGAs, 1-for-2 FTAs) and 10 assists. Not bad, but hardly destructive.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Andrew Bynum and Blake Griffin each made their mark in what could become a rivalry.
Do the Lakers and Clippers share a rivalry? That all depends on where you set the bar. The two teams clearly have some mutual animosity but, as Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said prior to Wednesday's game, it isn't a rivalry yet -- at least not until the Clippers win some meaningful games.
Once Los Angeles absorbed the hype and settled in for the tiebreaker in the city series, there was a whole lot to glean about these two teams:
- Remember when we used to refer to Andrew Bynum as raw? His temperament may still be immature, but for all the acting out and histrionics, he's become one of the 10 most difficult guys in the league to defend. The jab, the emerging face-up game, his eagerness to move low the instant his man steps out -- then the ability to seal him off. The 3-pointer aside, Bynum's repertoire seems limitless and he's approaching every touch as if it's his last. No wonder he's calling for the ball. Bynum finished with 36 points on 13-for-20 shooting from the field and 10-for-12 from the line.
- The Lakers are a crafty bunch. One of the ways Bynum is able to get such deep position against his defender? The Lakers will run their 3 man -- sometimes Metta World Peace and sometimes Matt Barnes -- across the baseline on a curl, something they did on Wednesday night. On their way across the court, World Peace or Barnes would bump DeAndre Jordan, buying just enough time or space for Bynum to creep that much closer to the hoop. When that happens, the Lakers guards would instantly deliver the entry pass into Bynum. At that point, most of the hard work is done for the Lakers, and Bynum is left with a high-percentage shot against a off-balance defender.
- The Clippers' recent improvement can be attributed, in some part, to Jordan's aggressive defense, both underneath and out on the perimeter in pick-and-roll coverage. Jordan is the team's defensive ace of the future, the big man who is supposed to give the Clippers that Tyson Chandler-ish presence beneath the rim. A performance like tonight has to be dejecting, both for Jordan and the team. He didn't get much help, but a one-on-one matchup against an elite counterpart in a key game is the equivalent of a big midterm for a highly paid young center like Jordan.
- Kobe Bryant did most of his work at the foul line extended and below, toying with a procession of Clippers defenders that included Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Nick Young and, for the briefest of stretches, Eric Bledsoe (the Clippers' most capable perimeter defender). The Clippers threw a zone at Bryant and the Lakers for a short stint, then sent double-teams at him, usually from the block in the form of Kenyon Martin, but sometimes from up top. Bryant never wavered from his attack. With the game on the line and the Lakers leading by only two points inside of a minute, Bryant manipulated a switch on a little brush screen for Ramon Sessions. Now covered by Foye, whom Bryant devoured from start to finish, Kobe received the ball off the mid-left block, floated left, then elevated over the 6-foot-4 Foye.
- Speaking of Sessions, he's given the Lakers an entirely different look. He approaches each possession with a purpose and his decisive nature is helping the Lakers get the ball in better spots. Decision-makers like Sessions can help a team execute possessions. It’s not as if Derek Fisher didn’t have good judgment -- he was the consummate wise man -- but he rarely was in a position to make big ones. Sessions is trustworthy and a versatile pick-and-roll guard. The 1-2 pick-and-roll he runs with Kobe up top makes life inordinately easier for Bryant, and Sessions got at least four buckets of his own out of that action. Run under a screen for Sessions and he can shoot or make a play. And when Bryant or Bynum draw attention, Sessions will dart to the rim fearlessly, often drawing a foul. It's a brilliant pickup for a team that needed perimeter penetration and a steady hand on the rudder as the Lakers approach the postseason.
- Blake Griffin did this and this -- practically shoving Pau Gasol into retirement. Griffin said that he'd hoped the second dunk would provide the Clippers with some momentum. It did momentarily, but ultimately spectacle lost out to substance. After the game, Bynum characterized the contrast like this: "We got the W, [Griffin] can have the highlight." Griffin and Gasol went at it all night, and it was a treat to watch. Are there two more stylistically opposed power forwards on earth? Tally up the primary strengths of each and you'd be hard-pressed to find any overlap. Yet they're both phenomenal, just at different crafts.
- Why have the Clippers been playing better basketball of late? One refrain you’ll hear from fans, media, coaches and players alike is that they’re pushing the tempo. To the naked eye, that makes sense. The sets seem more fluid and there’s less of a struggle to find shots in the half court. The only problem? The Clippers played some of their slowest ball of the season during the streak. Here were the number of possessions in the respective games: 87, 93, 93, 87, 90, 88 -- every single game below the league average of 93.8. In the process, the Clippers have dropped to 27th in pace factor. Wednesday night was their swiftest game in weeks -- 95 or 96 possessions -- which prompts the questions: Are the Clippers better off slowing things down and letting Paul pick apart opponents in the half court?
- Paul had his inside-out dribble working as he snaked through the forest of Laker defenders. What's new? He got some help from Butler, who was leveraging the freedom the Lakers gave him on the back side of the defense. The Clippers generally need a weakside threat who can hit shots if they're going to be competitive and Butler gave them that tonight. Meanwhile, Paul found every opportunity to feed his teammates, racking up 16 assists. Unfortunately for the Clippers, he needed 20.
- Griffin needs some ball screens to help him burst to the hole. The Lakers have their 1-2 pick-and-roll. Well, the Clippers need a 4-5 to give Griffin another path the rim.
It’s always dangerous to link cause and effect, but despite his occasionally free-wheeling shot selection, Billups posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 16.3 in his 20 games as a starter. And despite reports of his demise as a defender, the Clippers were 4.4 points better defensively when Billups was on the floor.
The Clippers pursued J.R. Smith and had been active in trade discussions for several shooting guards in recent weeks. Price tags for such players have been steep, and in snagging Nick Young from a moribund Wizards squad, the Clippers gave up virtually nothing for a proficient shooter on an inexpensive expiring contract -- DNP case Brian Cook and a future second-round draft pick.
Young can shoot the 3-ball, particularly from the corners, where Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro tends to situate his wings in his pick-and-roll, isolation-heavy offense. Young is a 54.5 percent shooter on corner 3s, and his 30 makes from that zone rank him seventh in the NBA.
What Young can’t do much about is addressing the Clippers’ most pressing problem -- their 22nd-ranked defense. His 6-foot-7 frame will make life a little more difficult for opposing wings, who have had a significant height advantage over the Clippers’ defenders, but Young can never be characterized as a stopper. He’s also one of the most gratuitous chuckers of the dreaded long 2-point shot. And his miniscule 6.1 assist rate ranks him 78th of 79 qualified shooting guards -- deep black hole territory.
But on balance, this was an easy call for the Clippers. They have no long-term commitment to Young, who is on a one-year contract. If he can fill Billups’ shoes as a proficient spot-up specialist, good for the Clippers. If not, the Clippers still have Mo Williams as their designated microwave and can punt on Young at the end of the season.
"I'm good," Williams said. "I don't have any money yet anyway."
Williams is one of more than a dozen NBA players at the rematch on Sunday evening between Washington, D.C.'s Goodman League team and the squad representing Los Angeles' Drew League.
To diehard NBA fans, most of the faces here are recognizable -- Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, James Harden, John Wall, Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan, Trevor Ariza and Michael Beasley, among others. But for spectators in the stands who wanted to double-check their work, the nameplates stitched to the back of the jerseys provided no help. All of them read "BBNS," as in "Basketball Never Stops."
That may be the case on rec courts and in gyms across the country, but barring a deal between owners and players by Monday, basketball will stop in the NBA. Absent an agreement, the NBA is expected to announce the cancelation of the first two weeks of its regular season.
Canvas enough NBA players, and you won't get much diversity of viewpoints on the negotiations -- but there's certainly a disparity of knowledge and intensity of opinion. In some respects, it's not all that different than any industry gathering or social function. Some people feel an obligation to know what's going on, while others find current affairs to be outside their field of interest.
Harden falls squarely into the first camp. Prior to the game, the Thunder guard said he wouldn't rubber stamp a proposal, even if he received a personal call from union president Derek Fisher.
"I'd want to know what the deal is," Harden said. "Derek is someone you definitely listen to, but I'd also want to talk with the big guys -- LeBron, KD, and the rest."
Asked if he could see any scenario where a 50-50 split in basketball-related income (BRI) would be acceptable, Harden shook his head.
What's your drop-dead number?
"Fifty-three," Harden insisted. "No less."
DeRozan said he had faith in Fisher and the union and was predisposed toward following any proposal submitted to him by the union.
"I trust Derek and everyone who's working for us. They feed us with information about everything that's going on. If he told me [he had a deal he liked], I'm definitely going to trust his judgment."
But like Harden, DeRozan flatly rejected the idea that a 50-5o split in BRI was acceptable. When asked whether he'd reconsider an even split if that was the proposal presented to the players by their leadership, DeRozan reacted as if it were a trick question.
Others like Nick Young and JaVale McGee appeared less engaged in the proceedings or, at least, less confident expressing their opinions.
Young is ecstatic to be back in Los Angeles where he received a ton of all-City honors while in high school. He beamed when asked about the thrill of playing in a star-studded Drew-Goodman game, but less enthused to entertain questions about the lockout.
"I believe in Fish and I believe in the whole thing," Young said. "Whatever they do, I'm behind it."
On the prospect of a 50-50 split?
"I'm not sure," Young said. "Whatever they think."
Young was the only player to punt the question.
"We all have to act as a whole and come up with it," McGee said. "So we can't really say one by one."
Like Young, rookie Williams is just giddy to be at the party in Long Beach. It's not that he doesn't have anything at stake in the negotiations, just that there are guys far more qualified than him to represent the collective opinion of NBA players.
"I'm going to leave that to [the veterans]," Williams said. "Like Kobe. He's been there since the first [lockout]. He knows what he's talking about. He knows what's happening. He's played through the whole time they've had the [expired CBA], so I'm going to let them handle all that."
Jim Tanner, who represents Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young, told HoopsHype.com that Young is strongly considering a move to China as well.
Washington Wizards guard Nick Young, like Thaddeus Young, is looking hard at going the Chandler route.
Young’s agent, Aaron Mintz, told ESPN.com on Tuesday night that Nick Young is getting “major interest” from teams in China.
The catch? Actually signing with one of them, like Chandler did, means Young would most likely be forfeiting the opportunity to play in the NBA in 2011-12 in the event that the lockout eventually ends, thanks to a rule instituted by the Chinese Basketball Association earlier this month that forbids its teams to include NBA out clauses in contract offers.
Translation: Any NBA player who signs in China is committing to play in China through the end of the CBA’s season in March. That theoretically creates the possibility of signing with an NBA team in April, but virtually every established NBA player who has signed an overseas deal to keep them occupied during the lockout -- such as New Jersey’s Deron Williams (Turkey) and Jordan Farmar (Israel), Portland’s Nicolas Batum (France) and Denver’s Ty Lawson (Lithuania) -- has secured an out clause that allows them to come home as soon as the lockout ends.
Chinese teams aren’t even permitted to sign NBA players with existing contracts, so they’re forced to target free agents if they want NBA-proven talent. They’re allowed a maximum of two foreign players and Zhejiang, which will be coached this season by longtime Phil Jackson aide Jim Cleamons, have signed Earl Clark along with Chandler. Philadelphia’s Young and Washington’s Young are restricted free agents like Chandler.
Nick Young averaged a career-high 17.4 points for the Wizards last season, capitalizing on an increased role in the offense made possible by the December trade that sent Gilbert Arenas to Orlando.
"Maybe I'll lose out," Chandler told ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande on Monday. "But I think it can be a great experience. I haven't been in any [labor negotiation] meetings. I can't call it. I'm just taking a risk. … But as long as I take care of my body, I'll be fine. We've got insurance.”
Our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau tell us Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups became the second and third Knicks to score at least 20 points in each of their first two games with the Knicks. The other player to do so was Bill Cartwright in the 1979-80 season.
And with his 31-point, 11-rebound, 5-block game, Amar'e Stoudemire became the first Knick to post 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in a game since Patrick Ewing did it March 2, 1999 in Miami.
Anthony missed his last seven field goal attempts from 5+ feet on Friday night against the Cavaliers and scored just eight of his 27 points in the second half. Anthony is now 7-27 (25.9 percent) from that range as a Knick. He shot 39.3 percent with the Nuggets.
Cleveland is now 2-0 vs the Knicks this season, but 9-47 vs the rest of the league.
Elsewhere in the NBA:
After seven players missed part of the shootaround in Philadelphia, the Detroit Pistons played only six players in a 110-94 loss. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they became the fourth team since the merger -- and first since November 2009 -- to play six or fewer players in a game.
Dwyane Wade was the focal point of the Miami Heat offense on Friday against the Washington Wizards. Wade either scored or assisted on 45 of Miami's 121 points (37.2 pct). With LeBron James and Chris Bosh making just 10 field goals, and Wizards guards Nick Young and John Wall combining for 62 points, Miami needed Wade's magic, as they were +10 with Wade in the game, and minus-2 without him.
Before hitting five of his last nine shots Friday over the final three quarters, Chris Bosh went through a stretch where he missed 20 of 21 shots from the field dating to the previous game.
Friday marked Kevin Love's 200th career NBA game (and 45th straight double-double). Only three active players had more rebounds in their first 200 career games than has Love, who has 2,301: Shaquille O'Neal (2,590), Tim Duncan (2,399) and Dwight Howard (2,307).
Also, Kobe Bryant scored 24 points for the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night taking him over the 1,500-point mark for the 11th consecutive season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the longest such streak by an NBA player since Karl Malone reached that milestone in each of 12 straight seasons (1986-87 to 1997-98).
Wesley Johnson's first summer league game did not feel like the professional debut of a top-five overall pick. The Thomas and Mack center was nearly empty, with only a few hundred people there to populate the full-sized home of the Running Rebels. The starting lineups were listlessly announced to little fanfare. The pregame song was the theme music from Space Jam. To put it plainly, nothing about the start of Wes Johnson's pro debut felt like the start of something big.
Wesley Johnson didn't dominate, but he showed off his skills.
When one watches Johnson play, it becomes clear why he doesn't have the kind of hype surrounding him that most top-five players do when they come into the league. Johnson is a perimeter player, but he doesn't seem to have the mentality of a go-to scorer. The Syracuse product only scored 16.5 points per game during his final year with the squad, and he wasn't looking to take over his first summer league game. After the contest, Johnson said that he's still "trying to find his spots" in an offense he's still trying to learn, and "wasn't going out there trying to over-exert himself."
Johnson was all but invisible during his first stint on the court for the Timberwolves, and his first basket of the game didn't come until he crashed the offensive boards for a tip-in. For most of the first half, Johnson waited around for a ball that wasn't coming to him. While Jeremy Pargo and Wayne Ellington were busy dominating the ball, missing 14 of their 20 field goal attempts, and committing a combined 10 turnovers, the No. 4 overall pick waited patiently for his turn to get a shot or make a play. The sparse crowd in the Thomas and Mack Center didn't come expecting to see a show, and Johnson wasn't looking to provide one.
Johnson didn't dominate the game by any stretch of the imagination. But he also didn't waste possessions, which is a bad habit most summer-league guards and wings have a hard time kicking. When Johnson did get a chance to make a play, it became apparent why the Wolves think he was worthy of a top-five pick. There was the time Johnson came off a pick and smoothly drained a 33. Then there was the moment in the second half where Johnson made a perfect cut, caught a Patrick O'Bryant bounce pass without breaking stride, and easily dropped in an and-1. Then there was the resounding tip-slam that drew audible gasps and finally got the stadium buzzing, even after the dunk was disallowed.
Johnson isn't a No. 1 option, but he has every skill you could ask for in a wing player. He's a smooth but explosive athlete, and can get to the basket with one or two long steps. He calls himself a slasher, but he can punish teams if they leave him open from beyond the arc. With his athleticism, length, and defensive instincts, Johnson will be a plus defender from day one; the Spurs' Alonzo Gee was the first NBA player to get shut down by Johnson in the half-court, but he won't be the last.
Johnson is the rare summer league player who will look better playing with and against the best players in the world rather than trying to dominate the rookies and fringe prospects that populate NBA Summer League rosters. When Johnson's teammates start looking for him and setting him up with opportunities to finish plays, he'll shine as an offensive player while making an impact on the defensive end. Johnson probably won't be a superstar in the NBA, but he has a very good chance of being an above-average starter in this league for a very long time. Teams can, and have, done much worse things with a top-five pick.
- There's a lot to like about Knicks second-round draft pick Landry Fields. Fields isn't the most athletic guy in the world, but he uses every ounce of athleticism he has. He knows where the ball is going to be, wants to make plays, and does a great job using his body to keep defenders at bay when he puts the ball on the floor or goes up for a layup. There's no telling whether or not Fields' tricks will work against NBA defenders, but he certainly looked good today.
- Devin Ebanks knows how to set himself up for his jump shot -- his footwork is good, he's usually squared up when he shoots, and he can get his shot off from a variety of spots on the floor. At one point, Ebanks turned down a 3, took two hard dribbles, and pulled up for an easy mid-range jumper. It's surprising how few slashers have that move in their bag. The problem with Ebanks is that he's much better at setting up his jumper than he is at making it. Ebanks flicks his shot up there, and his release leaves a lot to be desired. If Ebanks can fix some of the mechanical issues with his jumper, he could become a surprisingly complete offensive player.
- Derrick Caracter played an extremely sloppy game, and ended up committed eight turnovers and eight fouls. On the other hand, his ability to finish in traffic continues to be impressive.
- Toney Douglas had a sloppy game as well, and he spent more time forcing shots than trying to be a real point guard. Maybe he's trying to prepare himself for his new role as a bench scorer, which the Raymond Felton acquisition will almost certainly relegate him to.
- Gerald Green had one stretch where he made a smart swing pass, hit an open 3 and swished a tough pull-up jumper. For a second, everyone in the arena wondered why somebody that talented didn't make it in the NBA. Then Green got picked clean in transition and got stripped going to the basket on consecutive possessions.
- Alonzo Gee looked amazing in full-court situations. He's a great rebounder for a guard, can start the break after grabbing a rebound, is a wonderful passer on the break, and is more than capable of finishing the break with a resounding slam. In the half-court, Gee was completely shut down by Wes Johnson, who might be the best perimeter defender I've seen at Summer League thus far.
- Patrick O'Bryant has bounced around the league since he was a top-1o pick, but he looked like a serviceable pro on Monday. He's still a legit 7-footer, showed some nice touch around the basket, made a nice low-post seal and bucket at one point, and was telling his teammates where to be on defense. He'll never live up to his top-10 billing, but there could be a spot for him on the end of somebody's bench.
- Dwayne Mitchell turned some heads when he scored 12 points in 12.5 minutes against the Wolves without missing a shot, with five of those points coming on a 3 3and a resounding alley-oop dunk.
- Rob Mahoney on Donté Greene: "It's entirely possible that Donté Greene was put on this planet purely to thrive in Summer League games. His ball-handling skills and decision-making aren't exposed against the inferior competition, and he essentially has license to fire at will. As a result, Greene reveals the flashes that made him such an intriguing prospect coming out of Syracuse. Yet that's part of the problem. Greene is so athletic and so talented for a 6-foot-11 player, but he's more or less the same talent he was a year ago or the year before that. Donté manages to catch lightning in a bottle in Vegas, but in the big leagues? He still has a fair way to go."
- Rodrigue Beaubois is really trying to add a more consistent jumper to his game, and has turned down some opportunities to drive in order to set up that jumper. The results have been mixed in Summer League, but he'll be scary if he can add that dimension to his game.
- Harvard graduate Jeremy Lin might be the most fearless driver in Summer League. He goes straight to the rim, and isn't afraid to take contact when he does. His and-1 while being taken down by Larry Sanders was one of the best plays of the week.
- Jeremy Schmidt on Jeff Teague: "He was the name many Hawks fans were calling for last season when Mike Bibby was showing his age. Teague gave a sampling of what he's able to do on Monday night. The Hawks second year point guard took advantage of Memphis' lack of a true point guard and was able to use his terrific quickness to repeatedly beat them off the dribble. Teague shot 5-7 from the free throw line, often drawing contact in the lane after getting by his first man. Teague controlled the game better than his three assists and four turnovers would indicate and, even with O.J. Mayo out there, often looked like the best player on the floor. Hawks fans will surely hope to see more of him next season.
- Michael Schwartz on Scottie Reynolds: "The Suns were not sure if Reynolds was supposed to play at all because of a strained Achilles he suffered last week, but Reynolds surprised even his coach Dan Majerle by coming in ready to play today. He then sparked the Suns with 16 points in 19 minutes in their 96-88 win over D-League Select. Reynolds led Phoenix at a Suns-like pace by pushing the ball up the court and his shooting touch was on target in a 4-for-6 outing that that included a pair of 3s. 'He brought a lot of spark pushing the ball,' Majerle said. 'It was good to see.'"
- Nick Young looks like a new man when he can take catch-and-shoot 3s off of John Wall passes. Between Young and JaVale McGee, Wall is already showing his ability to make his new teammates better.
- John Wall isn't just a leaper, he goes to the basket with force, and he can finish after taking a hit. Eric Bledsoe bounced off of Wall before he converted an and-1 in transition. Something else to feel good about: Wall looked much happier after throwing a successfully converted alley-oop pass than he did after making the aforementioned and-1.
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):
- 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 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.
- 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.
David Thorpe shares his thoughts about who's had a disappointing week in Vegas:
Curry has struggled with his shooting touch, while Randolph can't seem to miss.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)
- 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
I have repeatedly described Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog as my favorite blogger. Then when people ask me why, I can't quite explain it. It has something to do with this: whatever it is that he's doing? He's doing it hard.
He also leads the league in getting NBA players to dance for him.
Steinberg would also like you to watch these various videos of a Caveman character succeeding in making people uncomfortable during a Wizards broadcast, but I advise against it unless you love to cringe.
A while ago I asked TrueHoop readers if they had tales of meeting NBA draft hopefuls in real life. I got several responses -- here is a sampling.
- TrueHoop reader Will emails: "During the last semester, I sat next to Nick Young in English 263. I did not personally know him before class, so the first several times I spoke to him amounted to 'Good game last night' or 'nice dunk yesterday.' I was kind of scared that he would just ignore me, him being the star athlete that he is. However, I was immediately suprised by how nice he was. By the end of the semester, I can honestly say that he was one of the nicest human beings I've ever met. He is incredibly humble and down to earth. After I got to know him better, it was still difficult to detect even the slightest amount of ego. One time, after heavy pressing on my part, he gave the most subtle of hints that he thought Afflalo shouldn't have gotten PAC-10 player of the year ... and left unspoken who he thought should have actually won. In the course of our conversations (he showed up to pretty much every class, usually early), I learned many different things. For example, he claims that the best dunk he has ever done was an off the back board and then through the legs. (Although this Young dunk is pretty sweet also.) Also, viewers of USC basketball may have noticed that Nick smiles often on the court. That's the truth of him. He's just a happy guy. Even after Afflalo ripped our heart out at home, the next day Nick just smiled at me and said 'Don't worry about it man, we'll get them in the tourney.' Even after the loss to UNC, Nick didn't seem that down. Sure, he questioned the wisdom of putting Keith Wilkinson in after Taj Gibson got his fourth foul (he suggested RouSean Cromwell or N'Diaye due to their superior athleticism), but he also said that coach had to do what he thought was best, and they all had to respect that. Lastly, my favorite exchange with Nick was where he invited me to the Galen Center for open tryouts. After joking that I would just dunk once and then leave, he kind of stared at me in disbelief (I'm a 6'1 white kid). After laughing, he looked me straight in the eye and said, 'You can't dunk.' I said, 'Nick, I first threw down on the last day of P.E. in 8th grade.' He seemed to get excited and said 'Alright man, we'll see. I'ma get you the open gym times and then we'll see if you can actually dunk.' He said it in such a good natured way that there was absolutely no way I could conceive of taking offense. Alas, soon after this, he declared for the draft and pulled out of classes. That was the last time I talked to him. So, here's my message to Nick: Nick, if you somehow end up reading this, know that our dunk contest will happen someday."
- TrueHoop reader Adam emails: "I'm a senior at the University of Texas, and I played against Kevin Durant in a pick-up game. I'm 6-2, pretty scrawny, and not very good at basketball in the D-1 sense, but I can hold my own against non-collegiate athletes. My buddies and I were waiting at the gym on campus to play a game late one night and we noticed that KD and a few of his friends were playing a few courts down, so we got in line to play, thinking it would be cool to shoot around and play with KD, as he's the man on campus (or was, I guess). We start playing, and everyone's just goofing around, jacking up threes, until someone blocked one of KD's teammate's shots. To be fair, the guy who got his shot swatted sucked. They got super-intense, and the next time down the court, KD started posting me up all serious-like (I was the tallest player on my team, and therefore was the most 'qualified' to guard him). All of a sudden he spun towards the basket, but not before slamming his pointy elbow right in my eye. After dunking on us, he yelled 'don't talk s--- if you can't back it up' (that was heavily edited). I quipped, 'Isn't it past your curfew?' I'd like to say that I led my team to an upset victory, or even I j'ed a 3 in his face, but no. He single-handedly dominated us, literally with his teammates watching, as he would block our shots or steal the ball, and then drive into the lane and slam it home. (Scouts say he's skinny, but they wouldn't say that when they see him barreling toward you, as you debate for like half a millisecond if you're gonna take the charge before you run and duck. He's a big dude.) Needless to say, we didn't score another point. After that game, he didn't say anything, and just stormed off the court and out of the gym, probably feeling good about himself by dominating a bunch of out-of-shape frat guys. That's my personal experience with Kevin Durant."
- TrueHoop reader Daniel went to Boston College with Jared Dudley and emails: "My freshman year, I lived on the same floor with Jared Dudley. We both lived on the second floor. There was one night when I had my room door open. I was sitting at my desk and I had my TV on. I'm pretty sure it was Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. I definitely know the Oakland A's were playing. (I think this was in the Spring of 2004). And who comes walking down the hallway? Jared Dudley. He then peaked into my room and saw the baseball game. Dudley is from California and was interested so he took a few steps into my room to check the score. We didn't really talk that much; he then moved on down the hallway to his room. There was another time freshman year. Jared Dudley, Sean Marshall (SG/SF for the basketball team), and a bunch of other athletes (football players like Dejuan Tribble, a defensive back and a friend of Sean Williams) lived on the Claver section of the second floor of the dorm building; I lived right next to them on the Loyola section of the floor ... outside of the building was a pretty nice outdoor basketball court. Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall would never play in the pickup games, but they would often sit courtside and watch the games and occasionally make comments or yell something. Pickup games were happening all the time even in the freezing winter at 1 am ... it was fun. There was this one pickup game where I was on fire; I kept draining three-pointers and a second before I was about to attempt another three Sean Marshall yelled "money!" I got too nervous having Dudley and Marshall there commenting so I just passed the ball.
- TrueHoop reader Brandon got to know Coby Karl at Boise State: "I was a manager at BSU several years ago, and have only good things to say about him. He came to BSU, and was just physically overpowered by the other players. He redshirted his first year, and spent a lot of time working on his physical strength, and by his redshirt freshman year, he was a big-time contributor to the team. He basically lived in the gym, and I would give him tapes to study all the time. As one of the assistants told me about Coby, 'He is all about ball.'"
- TrueHoop reader Eddie on Russell Carter: "Russ Carter from Notre Dame was in my dorm and was roommates with one of my best friends his freshman and sophomore years. He is a really nice guy, its been fun getting to know him better and watch him grow as a player. He was really frustrated Freshman year with his lack of playing time, and I know that he and Coach Brey butted heads a few times, but he grew in to a great player for us and is now, in most of the mock drafts i've seen, has worked himself into a 2nd round draft pick."
- TrueHoop reader Scott played high school and AAU basketball with Al Horford: "There really wasn't anybody that could match up with him at all, and we just dominated most other teams. We went to AAU nationals in Bloomington, Indi
ana at that sportsplex gym and we played a total of 10 games there during the tournament. Over those 10 games we went 10-0 and won the national title. I don't think we would have won the title if it wasn't for Al, not to say that he was the only reason we won because we had a solid team, but with his presence at center it sure made things a lot easier on the rest of us as teamates to raise our games and play with confidence. The next year I only played half the summer because of my knee injury, but watched him as much as I could during the high school season. Not only was Al a terrific basketball player, but he was also a great friend. He was quiet and shy at first but once you got to know him he was very funny."
- TrueHoop reader Anna works in the stadium at the University of Florida and has met several Gators: "I've gotten to meet most of the Gator boys. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Taurean Green or Al Horford -- they're not too into the meet-and-greet thing, apparently -- but I've met the others several times. A lot of people have the wrong impression of Joakim Noah. This is due, I think, to his incessant ridiculousness around the time of the tournament and the championship this year. When he's not goofing off, he's actually very intelligent, well-spoken and gracious to the fans (since most of the people there for autographs were unabashedly there just for him). His sister's seriously, seriously drop-dead gorgeous, and he's actually not bad-looking in person. No, really, he's not. People were asking him for crazy things -- one girl asked for him to sign her roommate's socks (new ones still packaged together), another had him sign every issue of the Gainesville Sun that he was on the cover of, another just wanted to touch his hair, and of course, he did everything they asked. Oh, and the only time he dropped his guard was when he hugged a tiny little old woman who was with his family -- he was so delighted to see her, he was like a little kid. I told Chris Richard that my goal in life was to one day be as cool as him, and I meant it. The impression I have of him mostly consists of his fashion sense -- a teal and white tie-dyed cloth members-only jacket with stretch purple cuffs, bright orange sneakers, and huge headphones worn antenna-style on his head over his ears, for instance. I took a picture of my hand up against his (it didn't quite reach the end of his palm) and he laughed the entire time. Corey Brewer is not just the nicest athlete I've ever met -- he's possibly the nicest person I've ever met in general. The first time I met him, after the Tennessee game, he was signing autographs, but he wouldn't sign anything until after he finished talking with some Tennessee fans -- friends of his from home, I assume. Once they left, he talked and signed until everyone else had left too. I met him again after they clinched the SEC regular season, and he was in an even better mood than he usually is. I was standing at the top of the bleachers next to the gate they come out of (most people had left after they told us that all the players were gone, but they LIED) and I was delighted to see him. I held out my arms and said, "Corey!" and he grinned that huge grin of his and hugged me. And, maybe it's the sheer hugeness of the shirts he wears, but he didn't seem very bony at all. The picture I have with him is my favorite, because he's the only one not faking his smile. He's shy, but he would never cut short fans who were there for him."