Breaking down the Artest-Durant matchup

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NBA_artest.jpgWhen the Lakers have the ball in their upcoming series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the matchup to watch will be the battle on the perimeter between Kobe Bryant and Thabo Sefolosha. When the Thunder have the ball, the matchup to watch will be the one between Kevin Durant and Ron Artest, and it should be a good one.

With his lanky frame, incredible ball-skills, and silky-smooth stroke, Durant’s offensive game is often compared to Kobe Bryant’s. In practice, however, Durant’s scoring game is much more similar to LeBron’s than it is to Kobe’s. Despite the fact that he couldn’t lift the bar once at the NBA draft combine, Durant is as good as any player in the league at getting to the rim and finishing. Durant averages 5.3 shot attempts per game at the rim, and converts 69.8% of his shots from there. He also has one of the best pull-up games in the league from inside of 15 feet; Durant averages 4.9 jumpers from inside of 15 feet per game, and makes an impressive 47% of them. And of course, Durant gets to the line more than any other player in the league.

Despite his gorgeous shooting stroke, Durant isn’t nearly as effective when forced to take deep jumpers as he is when he goes to the hole. Durant takes six deep twos a game, but only makes 37% of them. Durant is a good three-point shooter, but most of his threes come after one or two dribbles in isolation or off a catch-and-shoot situation. He rarely punishes the defender for going under the screen on the pick-and-roll; Durant has been the ballhandler on a pick-and-roll that ended in a shot attempt, free throws, or a turnover 189 this season, and he’s only 2-15 from three in those 189 possessions.

Durant doesn’t have the kind of ability to hit deep jumpers from any angle that Kobe does. (In the interest of fairness, the same could perhaps be said about any other player in the league.) If you can keep Durant from getting into the teeth of the defense off the dribble in ISO situaions, his only recourse is launching a three from two or three feet beyond the arc or taking a deep two that he’s not very comfortable making. One thing that makes Durant so dangerous is that he’s just as comfortable spotting up or coming off a screen as he is getting the ball in an ISO situation. Since opposing players shoot 30% against Ron Artest in ISO situations, you have to imagine that Oklahoma City will attempt to keep Durant on the move and find ways to get him points without making him battle Artest.

There’s the matchup on paper. How has Durant fared against Artest in the Thunder’s four meetings with the Lakers this season? Let’s take a look:

Game 1:

This was a tough game for Durant, who shot 10-24 from the field and turned the ball over seven times. He only had one ISO possession in the entire game, and that was an end-of-quarter possession. The Thunder tried to remove Durant from Artest by giving him screens and putting him on the weak-side, but Artest stayed attached all night. Of Durant’s four baskets in the paint, two came off offensive rebounds, one came courtesy of a nice James Harden dime in transition, and one came when Artest gambled for a steal attempt while Durant was going backdoor.

Durant never got enough space during the Thunder’s first meeting with the Lakers. When he tried to catch and shoot, Artest bothered his shot and forced the miss. When he tried to put the ball on the floor and turn the corner, he went right into the waiting Laker defense and turned it over. If the Lakers play defense like this come playoff time, Durant and co. are going to be in for a very long series.

Game 2:

This was another tough game for Durant, who finished 8-20 from the field and only shot one free throw. The Lakers went up big early in this game and never relinquished the lead, and that seemed to have discouraged Durant. He didn’t have one recorded ISO possession that led to points, and he spent most of the game jacking up quick catch-and-shoot attempts, most of which missed their mark. Of his four makes in the paint, two were in transition and one came when he put his own miss back in.

Game 3:

The Thunder fell to the Lakers again in this game, but Durant looked worlds better. He was making much better and harder cuts to free himself up, looked much more confident attacking off the dribble, and the Thunder did a good job mixing up how they got him the ball. Durant was able to get past Artest a number of times in a variety of fashions on his way to an 11-18 shooting night.

Game 4:

This was the game the Thunder blew the Lakers out in Oklahoma City, but Durant actually didn’t do anything all that terribly different. He did go ISO a few times, but missed a quick-trigger jumper every time he did. He had his greatest success when he cut hard to the basket or attacked off the pick-and-roll, getting layups or easy pull-up jumpers a few times by moving without the ball.

After watching all of Durant’s possessions against the Lakers this season, here’s what pops out at me: the most important part of the possession has come before Durant catches the ball. When Durant catches it out on the perimeter with Artest in his vicinity, he hasn’t been able to do much. When he gets it on the move or catches the Laker defense scrambling, he’s been deadly. The Thunder will need to find ways to free up Durant for good looks, and Durant is going to have to commit himself to being aggressive with his movement and cuts off the ball. When the playoffs start, the most interesting battles between Durant and Artest may happen when nobody is watching them.

Trail Blazers Noah Vonleh out 3-4 weeks following leg surgery

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17: Noah Vonleh #21 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots over DeAndre Jordan #6 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center April 17, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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This is a huge season — a contract kind of season of sorts — for Noah Vonleh in Portland. The team has an option on him next season (the third of his rookie deal), and to impress people he is going to have to earn minutes at the four in front of Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, and Ed Davis.

The Blazers have high hopes for Vonleh, he was a central part of the Nicolas Batum trade with Charlotte. However, watching Vonleh at Summer League — 12 points a game on 46.3 percent shooting, 8.8 rebounds a game in more than 30 minutes a night — he didn’t show the development anyone had hoped to see. He should have dominated at that level. He didn’t.

Now there another injury setback for him.

He should be good to go around the start of training camp at the end of September.

But he can’t afford a slow start in training camp (that set him back his rookie season). He needs to show what he can do from day one, or Portland is going to move on without him.

Report: Celtics waive non-guaranteed John Holland, still have battle for last roster spot

BELGRADE, SERBIA - JULY 08: John Holland (R) of Puerto Rico in action against Dairis Bertans (L) of Latvia during the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying basketball Semi Final match between Latvia and Puerto Rico at Kombank Arena on July 08, 2016 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
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The Boston Celtics have 16 players with guaranteed contracts and NBA rules allow just 15 players on the roster. Which means if a trade doesn’t happen by the start of the season, someone is going to get cut but still paid for the season.

This doesn’t change that.

The Celtics signed guard John Holland last season (he played a total of one playoff minute for them), but the deal was not guaranteed for this season. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This was expected. Holland, who has played on the Puerto Rican national team, will be looking for a new gig either in the D-League or overseas (it’s unlikely an NBA team offers more than a training camp invite) By the end of training camp, the Celtics also likely will cut second-round pick Ben Bentil of Providence, who had a partially guaranteed deal.

That will leave R.J. Hunter and James Young battling it out for the final roster spot in Boston.

Report: Ty Lawson’s one-year deal with Kings is non-guaranteed

TORONTO, ON - MAY 01:  Ty Lawson #10 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles the ball in the first half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 01, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Ty Lawson is headed to the Kings, as first reported on Monday. The team made the move official on Wednesday with a press release, and USA Today‘s Sam Amick offers up another important piece of information: Lawson’s deal is not guaranteed, making it essentially a make-good camp invite.

It’s staggering how Lawson went from a borderline All-Star level point guard in 2012-13 to signing a non-guaranteed one-year deal with a lottery team three years later. His off-the-court issues have contributed to that, and he didn’t produce last season in Houston and Indiana. Still, he should have a pretty good chance of making the Kings’ roster, with Seth Curry and Rajon Rondo gone and Darren Collison their only proven point guard. They need depth there.

Ben Simmons works out with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (PHOTO)

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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When Ben Simmons declared for the NBA draft this spring, he signed with LeBron James‘ Klutch Sports group for representation. That association would appear to have its advantages for the No. 1 overall pick, including the opportunity to work out with James and Dwyane Wade during the offseason. Wade posted a group photo on Instagram on Wednesday afternoon:

Also, it’s pretty staggering to see Simmons standing next to James and realizing that he’s bigger and taller.