PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

Count the Warriors among those looking to nab David Lee

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david_lee.jpgThe jury’s still out on exactly what kind of salary David Lee can command this off-season. Yet with Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson topping out on their earning potential, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see some team give Lee a max deal. Hooray for the Summer of 2010, where basketball paupers become princes (ahoy, Darko) and the middle class is elevated completely.

Lee has met with the Wolves, drawn interest from the Raptors, and been linked to just about every team with cap space (except the Knicks), and now the Warriors want to be a part of the fun and games. According to Marcus Thompson of Inside the Warriors, Golden State has their sights set on Lee and are looking to acquire him via sign-and-trade. Such a trade would practically necessitate Monta Ellis going to New York, which could actually be interesting for all parties involved.

The Knicks apparently have Amar’e Stoudemire locked down, but Mike D’Antoni desperately needs a point guard to run his offense. D’Antoni’s style is even more dependent on PGs than most, and as we’ve seen over the last few seasons, guys like Sergio Rodriguez and Chris Duhon just won’t cut it. Ellis would not only provide a stylistic fit (he’s been running and gunning with the Dubs his entire career), but also a far more talented alternative at the 1.

However, if New York was to take on Ellis’ salary, that would likely preclude them from signing another free agent. Monta and Amar’e would be an upgrade over last season’s Knicks in both talent and entertainment value, but is that really the future New Yorkers have been waiting for? Two talented but moody scorers, each a defensive liability in their own way?

Lee’s potential place on the Warriors would be a bit more complicated. Golden State has all kinds of bigs at the moment, and adding David to the rotation doesn’t make the picture any less muddled. Someone would clearly have to go. Ekpe Udoh, Andris Biedrins, Dan Gadzuric, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Ronny Turiaf, and Vladimir Radmanovic will all be vying for minutes at the 4 or 5, which doesn’t exactly leave room for Lee as a plug-and-play candidate.

However, such a move would be particularly notable for two reasons. The first is that it would demonstrate the Warriors’ faith in Stephen Curry as the team’s point guard. The second is that in Lee and Ellis, the Knicks and Warriors would be swapping two players who played in uptempo systems with very different results.

If given the keys to Mike D’Antoni’s offense, Monta Ellis could easily average 25+ points per game again next season. However, the problem with Ellis has rarely been the volume of his production, but rather its cost. Monta has been anything but efficient in his last two seasons with the Warriors, and while the team’s pace and the sheer number of scoring opportunities have still produced an impressive stat line overall, it’s a bit misleading.

If you look past Ellis’ per game numbers, his statistical resume starts to all apart. His PER last season was 16.7, which puts him somewhere between an average NBA player and a lower-tier star. He took 22 attempts per game to get to 25.5 points, which is fine but unspectacular. He turned the ball over quite a bit (which would be expected of a point guard, except that he didn’t generate all that many assists to balance them), didn’t get to the free throw line as much as he should have, and didn’t contribute much at all defensively. Ellis is good — and since his rookie season, that’s never been in doubt — but why isn’t he good enough to take advantage of an offensive system like that of the Warriors?

David Lee provides a very different case study in the effects of pace. Though is usage was high (though notably not as high as Ellis’) and the offense was fast, Lee actually remained a remarkably efficient player. His PER was an All-Star worthy 22.2, and Lee trumps Ellis in just about every significant per-possession metric. Some of those are inherent to their positional differences; obviously Lee is going to be the superior rebounder and shoot at a higher percentage, it’s just the a perk of being 6’9” rather than 6’3”.

Yet David also kept pace in the areas that were supposed to be weaknesses. His assist rate (per Basketball-Reference, “an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor,”) is actually pretty competitive with Ellis’, and his effective field goal percentage, a measure which is created to benefit outside shooters, blows Monta’s out of the water. Lee may not be a perfect player (his defense leaves plenty to be desired), but he’s shown himself to be a far more efficient offensive machine than Ellis.

Maybe it’s simply a Golden State parasite that’s made Ellis into a shot-eating machine, but there’s only one way to know for sure. Ellis and Lee need to swap places to eliminate as much noise as possible in their statical profiles. I can’t say the trade would radically change either the Knicks or the Warriors outlook for the better, but if neither franchise is going to make a serious playoff run in the near future, wouldn’t it be prudent to use them as a giant Petri dish?

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

Master P says Pelicans should hire him as assistant coach: ‘I’m serious’

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Did you know Master P had two NBA contracts?

Percy Miller was with the Hornets before the 1999 season and the Raptors before the 1999-00 season. But he was cut in the preseason both times.

These were mostly publicity stunts. Still, the rapper could actually play a bit. NBA quality? He long insisted yes, though his music career provided a convenient and lucrative excuse for sidetracking his basketball ambitions.

Yet, now, the New Orleans native says he wants back in the NBA with the Pelicans — in a different role.

Master P, via TMZ:

I think they need me to be an assistant coach.

I’m serious about coaching.

I don’t think he’s actually serious.

But if he is, would it be a good idea? Probably not. The Pelicans have real issues integrating Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and they need devoted coaches, not passing entertainers, to solve this.

Would it be fun? Heck yeah.

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